The boards that govern Georgia Regents Health System and its medical center voted unanimously Monday to make a bid to build a hospital in Columbia County, the state’s largest county without one.
The boards met in a called meeting and – after a 45-minute executive session – voted to respond to Columbia County’s request for bids to build a hospital.
Last year, the Georgia Department of Community Health shot down competing requests for a Certificate of Need from University Hospital and Doctors Hospital to build a free-standing emergency department in Columbia County. The state maintained there were adequate resources in Augusta to serve the county and that the proposals failed to demonstrate the need for the new facility.
In conversations with the state, county officials said they were made aware of three exceptions to that need standard that could apply: if it is an existing trauma center, if it is an existing teaching hospital or if the county pays 20 percent of the cost.
GRU’s bid could conceivably rely on all three, said Shawn P. Vincent Sr., the university’s vice president of partnerships, international health care and strategic affiliations.
“Given our history, we would believe that we certainly meet two of those criteria, being the Level One Trauma Center for 13 counties within Georgia (including Columbia) as well as being the state’s academic health center,” he said.
The physicians’ group at GRU had pursued a $34 million clinic there from 2006 to 2011 and got state permission over objections of other providers who argued it wasn’t needed, but it dropped the bid because of economic conditions. Vincent said the health system also decided to pursue a different expansion strategy to “partner with other community hospitals, other providers without having to own or control but still provide the services needed to the citizens of the community.”
The chance to build a hospital is a “unique opportunity” that could allow Georgia Regents Medical Center to really focus on the highest-level care, he said.
“We can provide that care better, faster and less expensive than others; that is how our chassis is built,” Vincent said. “This would give us an opportunity perhaps to decant some of the less complex care at another facility certainly if this works out. It’s a relief valve. You’re moving some of the less complex (cases), which increases throughput in a complex setting.”
While there was talk for years in the health system of the need for a replacement hospital, parts of which opened in the mid-1950s, that would not be the purpose of the Columbia County bid, Vincent said.
“We would not abandon our downtown facility or Richmond County, for that matter,” he said.
University’s board voted last month to put in a bid to build a 100-bed hospital in Columbia County, which it estimated at roughly $150 million. Doctors Hospital said in a statement last year that it is considering the request for bids. Those bids are due Friday.
Columbia County is attractive, particularly because of its population growth, Vincent said.
“Everybody talks about (a more favorable) payor mix, but it is really about geographic expansion, more people,” he said.