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Three Augusta hospitals tout proposed Columbia County location, criticize foes' plans

Saturday, July 5, 2014 9:41 PM
Last updated Sunday, July 6, 2014 1:31 AM
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One is a heavily wooded lot, another a long patch of dirt right up against a competitor’s new building, while the third is off busy North Belair Road.

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The proposed location for University Hospital's Columbia County facility is on its Evans campus.  TODD BENNETT/STAFF
The proposed location for University Hospital's Columbia County facility is on its Evans campus.

Should the Georgia Depart­ment of Com­munity Health decide to grant one of three requests from Augusta hospitals to build a hospital in Columbia County, the site chosen is likely to offer both strengths and drawbacks.

Doctors Hospital of Augusta, Georgia Regents Medical Center and Univer­sity Hospital have all submitted requests for a Certificate of Need to build a 100-bed hospital in Columbia County, the state’s most populous county without one. The state is likely to join the requests and rule on them together.

View a map of the proposed Columbia County Hospital locations

The most developed site is easily the Uni­versity Hospital Evans campus, which already has medical office buildings and is surrounded by a corridor of health care practices, an attribute University officials have touted from the beginning.

“University’s Evans campus is right in the heart of an existing, vibrant, relatively new medical complex,” said Ed Burr, the senior vice president for legal affairs.

“There is a very large existing medical community that’s right next to the Univer­sity campus; makes it very convenient for them to access their patients and for their patients to access the hospital since they are right next to each other.”

The site will connect directly with the extension of River Watch Parkway once it is completed and sits at the conjunction of other major arteries in the county, Burr said.

“All of the major roads in Columbia County lead to that campus,” he said.

But that is also one of its drawbacks in that it sits on heavily traveled North Belair Road, said Shawn Vincent, Georgia Regents’ vice president for partnerships for the health system.

“If you go down Belair Road or Washington Road, there is a tremendous amount of congestion,” he said. “You’re very close to schools. You think about speeding ambulances going past schools and through school zones. We wanted to try to avoid that and not create additional traffic headaches for the people within the county.”

The GRMC site in Grove­town, just off Interstate 20, is aimed at positioning it in the fastest-growing section of the county, Vincent said.

“That’s an area where there’s a tremendous amount of growth currently occurring and certainly anticipated growth that is expected in the future based on the expansion of both the Cyber Command, the Cyber Center of Excellence as well as the (National Security Administration),” all at nearby Fort Gordon, he said.

The site also sits cheek-to-jowl with the University Hospital campus at Grove­town that just opened. Though one of the Center for Primary Care offices sits close by, there is little else nearby.

Burr said most of those established practices on North Belair probably would not “pull up roots and move” if the hospital goes to Grovetown. It would be “basically making people make the decision that they are either going to have to drive on a fairly congested piece of road to get to the hospital from their offices or relocate their offices” and take a loss, he said.

While it is not included in the application, GRMC’s plan is to add a medical office building, either on its own or in partnership with developers, physician practices or even another hospital, Vincent said.

GRMC’s plan is for the hospital to be mostly staffed by community physicians, but Burr questioned whether that is realistic.

“They have no track record of recruiting private practice physicians into the community,” he said. “If you go outside of pediatrics, there are not a lot of existing physicians in this community that practice over there” at GRMC.

Vincent said the university works well with community physicians, particularly in pediatrics and in communities outside Augusta. Over time, having the hospital in Grovetown could make it the next health hotspot for the county, he said.

“We certainly would anticipate that would become a magnet for growth around the health and wellness areas,” Vincent said.

That is also the hope of Doctors Hospital for its site on North Belair Road on the other side of Washington Road from the University campus, CEO Doug Welch said.

Right now, “it is nothing but trees,” he said. “It would need to be developed.”

But it is also the location that was most attractive in the area where Doctors Hospital wanted to be, Welch said.

“Because it is central to Evans and the population base that is around it,” he said. “It’s the last big piece of property in that area, too. There’s no other 20-plus acre site around there. You have to get out pretty far before you find big sites again.”

There are relatively few physician offices in the immediate area, but that would be why Doctors Hospital would also add a medical office building, Welch said.

“You have to have the (offices) to attract new physicians to the area,” he said. “You build a medical facility and physicians do come close to it. I think it would definitely attract people to that side of Belair Road if we’re chosen to move forward.”

It might take time, but Welch said he can look back at the history of Doctors Hospi­tal for how that would happen.

“I love hearing the stories from our medical staff when Doctors was built 40 years ago that Wheeler Road was a dirt road out here,” Welch said, perhaps jokingly. “Eventually, look what happened now. Forty years later there are tons of medical office complexes around here. The hospital didn’t hurt the commercial growth in the area. If we’re chosen and that site is where we get the chance to build, the development would come around it.”

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tatemanor 07/06/14 - 12:15 am
Only one good choice for a hospital in Columbia County

Being a member of the Richmond-Columbia Medical Communities, I am familiar with the three hospitals vying to be Columbia County"s first and only hospital. The first, Georgia Regents Medical Center, or whatever Dr. Aziz is calling it now, is a teaching facility and has a patient base, consisting mainly of the noninsured, the indigent and the lower class patients in the area. Columbia County is not a place that consists of this population, as a whole. Speaking of as a resident of Evans and Columbia County, I would never use their facility. Even in an emergency situation, I would have the EMTs take me to University Hospital in Augusta. With his disgraceful and dishonest track record, I would not like to see Dr. Aziz out here, with his fingers in Columbia County"s business. This is a man, with his own selfish agendas, who harms everything he touches. The second, and unacceptable choice, for our county hospital is Doctor's Hospital. I can only speak as a past patient of Doctor's Hospital. I spent two weeks in the facility about seven years ago. I was, fortunately, with a friend. Waiting in the lobby, to be admitted by a clerk, I felt faint and got onto the floor and put my feet up onto a chair. My friend went over to the clerk and told her that I needed help. The reply was, "He will have to wait his turn." We got the attention of an employee and I was placed on a stretcher and taken to my room. There was one nurse covering the room. I told her that I was very ill and she needed to call my physician. She said that she was not calling anyone until she received orders. I told her that I brought the orders with me and they were at the nurses' station. She did take my vital signs and I was extremely hypovolemic. I begged for four hours for help and she did nothing. Finally, I crashed in the bed, without even an IV, and they rushed me to ICU. Then the last time, five years ago, I was taken by EMS to Doctor's Hospital with an acute emergent illness. I do not remember being in the E.R., but I spent 10 days on the a medical floor. In short, a nursing assistant accused me of having an STD which I did not have nor ever had. Another nurse got belligerent while I was using the bathroom for unplugging my EKG. I had to try and calm her down because of her screaming at me. The final straw was one night while I was talking to a friend of mine on the phone and mentioned that I was waiting for Respiratory Therapy to give me a breathing treatment before bedtime. The nurse, in the room, went ballistic and came over, screaming, swinging her fists at me and making threats. My friend told me not to hang up and drove to Doctor's Hospital at 10p to help me. The nurse was removed from duty and sent home. I received my treatment and was sedated. I still get PTSD symptoms whenever I see Doctor's Hospital. I have never had a problem with their outpatient department, but otherwise will never be a patient there, again. I receive all my medical treatment at University Hospital. I find it run very efficiently, respectfully and a pleasant place to be a sick patient. Going to University Hospital for a procedure does not carry the terror that I associate with Doctor's Hospital and I cannot imagine that any of my physicians would be on staff at GRMC. I, along with our other citizens, support University Hospital as Columbia County's one and only suitable choice for our community hospital. I am a retired Nurse Anesthetist with 34 years experience. Both of my friends mention are Nurse Anesthetists, also.

bdouglas 07/06/14 - 01:04 am
3 competitors touting the

3 competitors touting the virtues of their own ideas and criticizing those of their foes. Shocking story...

gargoyle 07/06/14 - 02:12 am

I can match horror stories for horror story only with University or MCG hospital being the villain and I don't work in the health care industry. The point being the best fit hospital proposal for the Columbia County community should be the decider not a PR campaign or hyperbole .

seenitB4 07/06/14 - 06:54 am

We are going to talk this thing to death is beginning to sound like 5 guys in south Augusta.

Build it.

Riverman1 07/06/14 - 07:59 am
My Point of View

That first comment was written by a brand new commenter, someone who writes pretty well and claims to have insider knowledge of the medical community while giving us a personal anecdotal incident. As Gargoyle says, anyone can throw out something about any hospital in the mix, especially someone with a motive.

Again, my concerns are I don't want the county to be out a red cent for any of them. Plus, I'm concerned about the ultimate ownership of University Hospital. That would be Richmond County which COULD divert profits to their downtown hospital. The big negative for GRU, for me personally, is the Grovetown campus. I live in Jones Creek and would rather have something closer.

Maybe Tom Corwin could do something I haven't seen and that's explain the convoluted control and ownership of University Hospital. It's one thing to write it off as the foundation having control, but when it comes down to it, it's the members appointed to the Richmond County Hospital Authority by the Commissioners, yeah, Marion Williams and company, who have ultimate control. Maybe Tom could detail how all this works for us.

Just My Opinion
Just My Opinion 07/06/14 - 08:30 am
Speaking as someone who also

Speaking as someone who also has occupational ties to the medical industry and all the surrounding hospitals, I would bet that the folks at Doctor's Hospital aren't sad in the least that tatemanor won't be coming back to Doctor's. "Begging"..."crashing"..."rushing"..."accusing"..."screaming"..."went ballistic"..."swinging her fists at me, making threats"?? Really?
Yeah, they're really missing you, buddy.
Now, as far as the bid for Doctor's Hospital, I'm going to try and match tatemanor's nonsensical reasons for them not getting it....they're talking about building it right across from my neighborhood and I don't want that! Something will go up in that lot eventually, but please not a huge, sprawling hospital with all it's traffic.
GRU = Azziz = Grovetown?? Nope.
Go ahead and let University have it.

WalterBradfordCannon 07/06/14 - 09:20 am
I suspect people are far more

I suspect people are far more familiar with the other hospital services than emergency care. GRU is, by far, the best trained and best staffed emergency center in the CSRA. If anything really serious occurs to you, you WANT TO BE TAKEN THERE. You can, quite literally, go down the roster of doctors at each and know everything you need to know. The emergency care (continuing educational) training for Fort Gordon, University, and Doctors all occurs at GRU or at Fort Gordon with GRU staff, and the training comes from the ER staff at GRU. They are the experts. When your life is on the line, you want the best, and they are the best. This is, btw, true in every urban area. The academic emergency rooms have the best staff. Always. But if my trip to the emergency room was not life critical, I probably would not go to GRU.

Emergency rooms are often for medical care outside normal operating hours. Doctors Hospital actually staffs their ER, in part, with general practitioners to handle normal medical care outside normal operating hours.

That being said, I am also quite familiar with the inefficiencies of GRU relative to University and Doctors in the other cares being provided. The large medical centers are all interested in using the emergency center as a loss leader to refer to their other businesses.

Now, as to the history of University. It was Augusta's hospital in 1828, when it provided the clinical training for medical students at MCG. It is controlled by the Commission, which is appointed by Augusta/Richmond County government. It is owned by Richmond County. Now, the commission largely leases the hospital to the corporation that is University Health System, and as long as the county remains happy with the healthcare that will continue. But, in a sense. GRU health is a state owned hospital that is leased to a private corporation that runs it, and University Health is a city owned hospital that is leased to a private corporation that runs it.

It just so happens that University Health is a LOT better run than GR Health. A huge part of that is the remuneration of the doctors. At University, the doctors are paid based on billables, and pay changes every month. At GR Health, it is yearly salaries. There are obvious wastes associated with the latter plan, and GR Health is trying to change its physician salary structure.

Anyway, in the early 1950s, the state decided to build a hospital for MCG, and put it right next to University. The clinical training that has occurred on University's campuses has been off and on since then, but University at that point ceased to be the teaching hospital for MCG.

shamrock 07/06/14 - 09:36 am
Columbia County Hospital

I have had experience with all three hospital both as an EMT and as a patient. In each hospital are good and bad experiences by the hundreds ... maybe thousands. Fortunately, I have experienced the good and the bad at each of the competing hospitals. I personally lean toward Doctors based on my own experiences but I am also aware of people who have had some bad experiences at the same place. At some point a decision has to be made and then Colmbia County will have to "live with it". I'm not really sure any one of these three will be a "mistake". The one arguement I can agree with is that as good as the MEDICAL COLLEGE OF GEORGIA hospital is, Columbia County needs to be careful of any association with Azziz!! None of the locations are "prime" because each has advantages and disadvantages.

bright idea
bright idea 07/06/14 - 01:05 pm

Is this an ego thing for Columbia County or a true need? Sure a new hospital five minutes away from everybody's door step would be nice but is it absolutely necessary? If improving proximity for more people is the real issue then Grovetown makes the most sense.

Riverman1 07/06/14 - 04:05 pm
WalterBC, that's a pretty

WalterBC, that's a pretty accurate comment.

grinspa 07/06/14 - 09:13 pm

With the help of Google, I measured the distance from my house to the University Hospital (Walton Way) Augusta. It is 10 miles.
I also measured the distance from my house to the proposed GRMC in Grovetown. It is 12 miles.
So it seems that the new Columbia County Hospital could be farther than the existing Richmond County hospitals.
I think a lot was lost when the Commissioners passed the decision ball to an agency in Atlanta because The GR's are also part of the Atlanta political machine. But, in the end, before it is awarded, there will be a referendum that I will vote yes if it is the Hospital of my choice. If not, I will vote no.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 07/06/14 - 09:36 pm

Grinspa points out the best scenario:

Put the Grooo hospital out in Grovetown, and then shut down the Grooo hospital downtown. That way, you minimize congestion downtown and open up a new complex in Grovetown.

Keeping all three hospitals downtown (University, Grooo, and the VA) is too many. We need to de-centralize.

Riverman1 07/07/14 - 04:54 am
LL, Only One Could Do That Fast

LL, interesting idea and one that the CON committee would have to consider if one of the three said it was their intent to relatively quickly close their Richmond County hospital and concentrate their operations in Columbia County. For that to happen fast, there's only one that could pull it off. University, being Richmond County owned, could never do it and it would be difficult for GRU to do it relatively fast because of the medical school, although it could happen in the coming decades.

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