Claiming it is already the “community hospital” for Columbia County, Doctors Hospital of Augusta filed Monday to build a hospital in the county, the third Augusta hospital to do so.
If the Georgia Department of Community Health deems all three applications complete, it is likely to join them and rule on their applications for a Certificate of Need together.
Doctors Hospital wants to build a 100-bed, $140 million hospital on 25 acres it has under contract at 745 North Belair Road in Evans. The property is not zoned for that purpose, but Doctors claimed it has “met with representatives of Columbia County who have indicated that they support rezoning of the property. Based on these discussions, Doctors Hospital anticipates that once the property is acquired, there should be no problems receiving the proper zoning for this project.”
County Administrator Scott Johnson said they had met with the hospital and told them they support the rezoning.
“But of course it’s got to go through the process,” he said. “We can’t make anybody any promises or guarantees on rezoning.”
The proposal would rely on 20 percent financing from the county, which would come from a special purpose local option sales tax up for a vote in November. The funding would help the hospital get around the required standards to demonstrate need for those hospital beds.
Doctors Hospital would reduce the number of beds at its current location by 100 to make the proposal “bed neutral,” the application says. Both University Hospital and Georgia Regents Medical Center said they would do the same with their main campuses if they build a Columbia County hospital.
Operating since 1973 less than a mile from the county line, Doctors Hospital said that it was the first hospital to recognize the need to serve Columbia County and that its Evans Surgery Center was “the first major health care facility in the county” in 1989, although University Hospital bought its Evans campus a few years earlier.
Doctors Hospital also said it was the first to file to build a free-standing emergency department in the county. University soon followed and the state joined the applications and denied both, saying the county was adequately served by facilities in Augusta.
Doctors Hospital said its proposal would have a number of advantages for the county. It said it would employ 511 full-time positions with an estimated $39 million in salary and benefits and generate $1.5 million in property tax.
University, while a nonprofit, said it would not file for the property-tax exemption.
GRMC is the only applicant to file for exceptions that do not require funding from the county because it can meet the exceptions for an existing trauma center or as an existing teaching hospital. However, it would take the 20 percent funding if that is the only exception the state department is willing to grant.
Shawn Vincent, the vice president of partnerships for Georgia Regents Health System, said if that became the option, the health system would work with the county on “any paybacks and structure of the funding prior to accepting money from the county.”
The 20 percent exception has been used twice before in the state, but both times to justify a larger bed expansion in the hospital than the state would normally grant, which the state allowed because the counties involved paid their share of the cost.
The next step for the Augusta hospitals is for the state department to determine whether all of the voluminous applications are complete. If it makes that determination, it generally has 120 days to review and render a decision.