AU Health System awaits ruling on whether it will be able to move forward on a hospital in Columbia County

AU Health System is hoping for an early Christmas present in an upcoming decision on a challenge to its license to build a hospital in Columbia County, the state’s largest county without one.

 

At the system’s board meeting Thursday, members also voted to change how revenue from physician billing comes into the health system to a more centralized and transparent system, an official said. The health system is struggling to bring in revenue and patients but is in the midst of an aggressive recruitment.

AU Medical Center CEO Lee Ann Liska updated the board on a challenge to the center’s Certificate of Need to build the Columbia County hospital, which is being disputed by Doctors Hospital of Augusta. The Georgia Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case Oct. 17 and officials are hopeful the court will rule in the case sometimes between Thanksgiving and Christmas, she said.

If Doctors prevails, the matter would return to the trial judge who has already ruled against it challenge. Should AUMC prevail, Doctors could still appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court but it would be up to the court whether to accept the case, said General Counsel Lee Little.

A series of appeals has kept AUMC from building the $160 million hospital since it was awarded the state license in November 2014 over competing proposals from Doctors and University Hospital. But “that’s not going to stop us from having a presence” in Columbia County, Liska said.

In a major change to its revenue flow, the board voted after a nearly hour-long executive session to change physician billing so that revenue is collected at the health system and then is distributed outward.

“It’s more efficient and it’s a transparent process at the health system level,” Little said. “We can track the revenue better.”

At a Finance Committee meeting prior to the board meeting, AUMC Chief Financial Officer Greg Damron said the health system was showing a $6 million loss as of September, about $2 million below where it expected to be and below the prior year at that point.

“We are not generating the growth in patient care revenue,” he said. “That’s been a big part of our push in terms of recruiting.”

As of Oct. 15, the health system had recruited 64 clinical faculty but still had 96 positions it was actively recruiting, said Dr. Julian Nussbaum, CEO of AU Medical Associates. That includes several key positions, such the chair of the Department of Pediatrics, the chair of the Department of Neurology, the chair of the Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine and director of the Georgia Cancer Center, said Dr. David Hess, dean of the Medical College of Georgia.

“We are recruiting as fast as we possibly can,” he said. “We never take our foot off the accelerator.”

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

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