Georgia Regents Health System will file to build a nearly $200 million hospital in Columbia County, setting up a head-to-head comparison with a similar proposal from University Hospital, an official said Wednesday.
GR Health filed its letter of intent to seek the required Certificate of Need, which means it has 30 days to put in the actual application. University filed its letter of intent April 30 for a hospital in Columbia County but has yet to turn in its request. Doctors Hospital has also expressed interest but has not filed its letter of intent.
In its letter, GR Health estimates the cost of the project at $195 million and lists the proposed site as the Lewiston Road/Interstate 20 corridor near Grovetown. University has a big project in Grovetown that will include a Prompt Care, lab, radiology, primary care and wound care. There is also a large physician office nearby but that will fit in with what GR Health wants to do, said Shawn Vincent, the vice president of partnerships for GR Health.
“We strongly believe that the overwhelming majority of physicians working at this hospital will be community-based and not really faculty of Georgia Regents,” Vincent said. “Even though there is a teaching function, the majority of direct clinical care will be provided by the community.”
The cost is much less than the roughly $300 million project GR Health proposed to the Columbia County Commission previously because the medical office building and health campus will not be included in this filing but they would still be part of the overall project, he said.
“It would be a three-phase project,” Vincent said. “This is Phase One and this is the only component that requires a Certificate of Need.”
It is also proposing only 100 beds in its CON but that is because of the way they are applying for the required state license. With numerous beds in Augusta hospitals next door, all of the applicants will be trying to get the CON through one or more of three exceptions to the need standards that must normally be met before permission to build is granted.
Those exceptions are if the applicant is an existing trauma center, or an existing teaching hospital or if the county puts up 20 percent of the cost.
GR Health would be applying primarily on the teaching and trauma exception so it is only including beds related to those functions in its CON, Vincent said. Pediatric beds, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit beds and Obstetrics beds would require a second CON, so the true size could be closer to the 144 GR Health originally proposed, he said.
“If we were awarded this hospital project, then we’d have to turn around and file another CON to add pediatric beds, NICU beds and obstetrics because those are separate under state law,” Vincent said.
Once they are filed, the Georgia Department of Community Health is likely to join University’s and GR Health’s CON applications, and Doctor’s if it files soon enough, and consider them together. It did so previously when University and Doctors filed separate applications to build free-standing Emergency Departments in Columbia County, which were both denied in a joined decision that found the county is adequately served by Augusta hospitals. It was following that decision that Columbia County officials learned about and pinned their hopes on getting a hospital through the exception process, which has never been used to justify a new hospital but has been used to get larger hospital bed expansions than the state would normally allow when the counties involved put up 20 percent of the cost.
While both University and GR Health will have 100-bed hospital proposals, GR Health’s cost estimate is more than $50 million more than University’s.
“It’s really a state-of-the-art facility that we’re looking at, a world class, high-tech, high-touch facility, which is why our costs are more,” Vincent said.