FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – IU Health has announced plans to enter the Fort Wayne health care market.

The health network said in a Friday afternoon news release it plans to open a primary care medical office in the first quarter of 2018. It will be staffed with up to 15 physicians and advanced practitioners.

That number does have the potential to increase.

Dr. Geoffrey Randolph, a longtime Fort Wayne Surgeon, will lead the new IU Health physician group. Randolph is the former Chief Medical Officer at Lutheran Health Network. He was fired two weeks after the firing of former Lutheran Health Network CEO Brian Bauer.

Bauer, then, has been contracted by IU Health to help develop a physician practice in Fort Wayne, according to IU Health Public Relations Director Jeff Swiatek. Indiana State Sen. David Long of Fort Wayne said in a prepared statement released to the media that Bauer will serve as CEO of IU Health’s Fort Wayne venture, but Swiatek would not commit to that.

A billboard along West Jefferson Boulevard in Fort Wayne teases to IU Health’s entry into the Fort Wayne health market.

“We believe IU Health can have a positive impact on the health of the Fort Wayne community with an expanded presence that includes an initial primary care office and access to leading specialists within the IU Health academic medical system,” said IU Health President and CEO Dennis Murphy, said in a news release. “We look forward to working with the community to bring IU Health’s resources to bear in serving the vital healthcare needs of the Fort Wayne area.”

IU Health is the state’s largest healthcare system. The group is planning a long-term presence in the Fort Wayne market with more outpatient locations and additional healthcare investments coming over time. IU health will partner with Indiana University School of medicine.

Senator David Long released the following statement:

 “The decision by IU Health to enter the Fort Wayne marketplace is great news for Northeast Indiana. IU Health has a stellar national reputation, and will be a welcome and high-quality addition to our region’s strong health-care presence. The fact that Brian Bauer will be the CEO of the organization means that a talented and experienced hand will be guiding the ship. All this is yet another positive sign that the Northeast Indiana economy continues to surge forward.”

The health network was thought to be ready to announce plans to move into Fort Wayne on Thursday, multiple sources had told NewsChannel 15. Just before 5 p.m., though, we learned that announcement had been pushed back to Friday.

Friday’s announcement was the culmination of a week of speculation.

On Tuesday, multiple sources told NewsChannel 15 that IU Health was planning to enter the Fort Wayne market. After that report, a Bloomberg News analyst told NewsChannel 15 that the network was expected to build new facilities in Fort Wayne and occupy old space.

The News-Sentinel, then, reported that IU Health was going to build two new buildings in Fort Wayne, one northeast and the other southwest, 20,000 square feet each. IU Health was also expected to move into an an existing office building at Engle Road and West Jefferson, the digital newspaper reported.

“Parkview Health has little to comment on. We have not spoken to IU Health about their announcement and have no insights beyond what was announced today.” -Parkview Health spokesman Eric Clabaugh

Further, the News-Sentinel, which is a news-gathering partner with NewsChannel 15, reported that IU Health’s investment in Fort Wayne would be tens of millions of dollars – and expected to attract local and regional doctors.

Finally, the first bit of proof lit up Friday when a billboard went up along West Jefferson Boulevard mid-morning Friday that read: “IU Health is coming to Fort Wayne.” The electronic sign told of plans for the hospital network to open outpatient campuses in 2018.

Ninety minutes later, in an email from Swiatek, IU Health formalized those reports with an email titled, “IU Health Fort Wayne announcement.”

Swiatek said the health network would not grant any interviews related to the news announcement. He added that IU Health had no address to share at this time.

Dr. John Crawford, a Fort Wayne City Councilman and Parkview physician, said he’s talked to doctors who are eager to see what comes. Since the fallout between Lutheran Health Network and its parent company, Community Health Systems, several doctors have left or have been fired.

“I think it will be good,” Dr. John Crawford said. “That gives us a choice too. For example if you’re a doctor, and you’re not real happy where you’re practicing, but you don’t want to leave Fort Wayne suddenly you got another choice.

“[Community Health Systems] fired a lot of people, and that made morale fall even further,” Crawford said. “It’s recovered a little bit, but not a great deal so I think the doctors over there, many of them, will be looking at this very carefully.”

A Parkview Health spokesman said the network had no “insights” on IU Health’s announcement. We reached out to Lutheran for a comment, but they said they don’t comment on ‘vague speculation.’