The Georgia Court of Appeals is sending the appeal of a license for a hospital in Columbia County back to the trial court, which will further delay a decision on the case, potentially for months.
The court granted a motion by Doctors Hospital, which is appealing a Superior Court of Fulton County decision to deny its case against the Georgia Department of Community Health for granting a license to AU Medical Center to build a hospital in Grovetown. Columbia County is the state’s largest county without a hospital.
The state granted a Certificate of Need to AUMC to build the facility over competing bids from Doctors and University hospitals in November 2014. Recognizing the new hospital would not qualify under the normal standards for need due to the presence of so many hospital beds in adjoining Richmond County, the department granted the license using an exception that allows for a facility to be built if it would be the sole provider in a county and if the county pays 20 percent of the cost, which the county agreed to do.
Both Doctors and University administratively appealed the license awarding, which was upheld, and Doctors continued the administrative appeal process until it was finally denied. Doctors then filed for a judicial review of that decision, in which the trial court upheld the department’s decision. That case was then sent to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
In the most recent ruling this week, the appeals court noted that Doctors had asked for some documents to be added to the record. The appeals court noted that the entire record of the administrative appeal had been filed with the trial court but had not been included in what was sent to it. The Fulton County court was ordered to send those records within 10 days on Nov. 8 but they were never sent, the appeals court noted in its order this week. “A complete appellate record is necessary for determination of the issues in this appeal,” the court noted.
The case will be sent back to the trial court to complete the record and then will come back to the appeals court for a decision. AUMC plans to ask the appeals court Friday to reverse the decision to send it back to the trial court, said Chief Operating Officer Shawn Vincent. When it returns to the appeals court there would be a “re-docketing,” of the case, which would mean a new hearing and potentially stretch out the time before there is a ruling for “at least the better part of a year,” he said.
Doctors issued a statement Thursday saying it agreed with the court’s action.
“We began the appeals process seeking fairness in a flawed process, and are pleased with The Court of Appeals action which gets us one step closer to a full and fair review of the state agency’s process,” according to the statement.
Vincent said he feels the need for the facility in the largest Georgia country without one will ultimately be decisive.
“I really feel like we are going to prevail,” he said.
Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said he would be consulting with the county attorney Fridayto get an update on where things stood.
“We just wish it would be over and get on with the construction,” he said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org