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Columbia County Commission wants three hospitals to pursue facility; Hospital with Certificate of Need will be approved to build

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 6:52 PM
Last updated Wednesday, March 19, 2014 1:13 AM
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In the end, the Columbia County Commission picked all of the above.

In a meeting Tuesday night, the commission voted to approve all three Augusta hospitals to pursue the needed state permission to build the county’s first hospital. The county will then partner with whoever is able to get a Certificate of Need to build at least a 100-bed hospital in the county, the state’s largest without one.

At least two of the three, Doctors Hospital and University Hospital, said they would continue while a Georgia Regents Health System official said it would need to weigh the options and have more discussions.

“During this entire process, it weighed heavily on me, and I’m sure many of the others here, that this particular process would deprive two fine health organizations (of) the opportunity to plead their case before the ultimate deciding authority,” the Georgia Department of Community Health, Commission Chairman Ron Cross said. “If all three of our applicants were agreeable to the commission, why
not let the final decision-maker decide?”

A previous attempt to place a free-standing emergency department in the county last year was turned down by the state because it ruled the county is adequately served by Augusta hospitals.

The county’s hopes for a facility rest in one of three exceptions to the state’s need criteria: if the hospital is a “sole community provider” and the county pays more than 20 percent of the cost; if the facility is an existing teaching hospital; or if the facility is an existing trauma center.

University Hospital would try to get a CON using the first exception but has committed to forego tax-exempt status for that facility and provide enough tax payments to cover the county’s share up-front for a $144 million, 100-bed hospital. Georgia Regents would apply using either the teaching or trauma exception and without county funds to build a $280 million “health campus” that includes a 144-bed hospital.

Doctors would apply using the trauma exception once it is designated a trauma center later this year, also without county funds, to build a $150 million, 108-bed hospital.

After the vote, Georgia Regents was noncommittal about whether it would continue its application.

“I think we’ll evaluate what our next steps are,” said Shawn P. Vincent, vice president of partnerships, international healthcare and strategic partnerships. “I think it’s too early to say.” Georgia Regents has a board meeting Friday, but he wasn’t sure if it would be discussed then.

University will stick with its plan because it believes that still offers the best hope of securing a CON, said Ed Burr, senior vice president for legal affairs. Doctors also will stick with its plan, CEO Doug Welch said, but acknowledged it might be delayed some months as it waits for that trauma designation. In its proposal, Doctors also discussed pursuing the sole county provider with 20 percent from the county exemption, Welch said.

“We’d have to have more discussions with the county about that if we were to pursue that option,” he said.

That could set up an interesting dilemma for the state of choosing between at least two applicants who would claim to be the “sole community provider” for Columbia County.

“It will test the rule as it is written,” Welch said.

But the state could go ahead and make that determination if it grants a CON to one applicant, Burr said. University and conceivably Doctors would also need a 20 percent commitment from the county to qualify for the exemption, but Burr said he felt that was implied in the vote to partner with whoever gets the CON.

“That’s essentially what the chairman was saying is we’re willing to partner with anyone that can go forward and get the exception,” County Administrator Scott Johnson said.

That was another reason not to just pick one, Commissioner Ron Thigpen said.

“If we were to choose the wrong one, if it were not approved by the Department of Community Health on their specific exemption, then we would lose the opportunity for a hospital,” he said.

The magnitude of the decision, which Cross has said could be the largest capital project ever for the county, also weighed on them, Commissioner William Morris said.

“This is the biggest decision I’ve been asked to make since I have been on the commission,” he said. “It’s not only for today but for the foreseeable future.”

Even if CON applications are filed soon and a CON is ultimately awarded, the hospitals not chosen are likely to appeal that decision, officials have said, and a legal battle could add months if not a year to moving forward.

In 2008, the physicians group at Georgia Regents got a CON to pursue a $34 million multispecialty clinic with an ambulatory surgery center in Columbia County – despite admitting the need was not there – by arguing in part that it helped further its teaching mission. University and Doctors Hospital Surgery Center appealed the decision. It was reversed by a hearing officer but then affirmed by the commissioner and finally upheld a year after the approval in Richmond County Superior Court, according to records at the Georgia Department of Community Health. Georgia Regents later abandoned the project for economic reasons.

Staff Writer Steve Crawford contributed to this story.

Comments (26) Add comment
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Riverman1
82449
Points
Riverman1 03/18/14 - 07:09 pm
6
6
Good Move

Fantastic. That's exactly what should be done as I've been saying all along. I appreciate the Commission and the committee studying the matter and then wisely staying out of this stage of the process.

bright idea
782
Points
bright idea 03/18/14 - 07:08 pm
1
2
What?

No cookie jar?

Riverman1
82449
Points
Riverman1 03/18/14 - 07:44 pm
4
3
CON Rulings

A few points. The state has never approved a free standing emergency room anywhere. The proposal for such a facility in Columbia County was turned down with the remarks that Augusta already has enough emergency facilities according to a Chronicle story dated 18 Apr. 2013. The ruling was in response to a request for an ER and addressed that limited issue.

Also, in 2008, GRU received a CON for the $34 million multi-specialty clinic with an ambulatory surgery center in Columbia County. They backed out on their own due to the economy at that time, not for other reasons.

My point in bringing this up is because I believe the CON will be awarded to one of the applicants. I also want the CON folks to accurately understand the history of the attempts in Columbia County to increase medical care.

http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/health/2013-04-18/university-doctors-h...

Letter from CON committee denying free standing ER application:

http://aug-cdn.com/sites/default/files/CON2012047%20Decision.pdf

whyme
1662
Points
whyme 03/18/14 - 08:18 pm
7
3
what??

First, the task force decides that they don't feel comfortable making a decision in public which, if the unpopular choice is made, could lead to public harassment. Now we have the commission making the decision...and then, not. Whichever of the 3 hospitals get their certificate of need first gets to build. Folks, this isn't the Amazing Race, this is our community. Is this really the way we want business conducted in our county? And yes, these are the same people who let a woman who made off with our tax money-"deserved" or not-without criminal charges nor having to return the entire amount. We are not demonstrating the characteristics of a town recently ranked high on the "best places to live" list!

Marinerman1
4663
Points
Marinerman1 03/18/14 - 09:09 pm
5
2
Well, PUNT

Even though Ron said, "We'll decide tonight", it didn't happen. Surprised? NO. Just like when the "committee" punted after the meeting was made public, once the word was raised that there would be "litigation" , it probably became clear that no one wanted to put their neck out -- "Let's let Mike-y". Oh well....

IBeDogGone
2986
Points
IBeDogGone 03/18/14 - 09:36 pm
6
1
Can't Make A Decision

Why have a board of commisioners if they cannot make a decision? Approve one of the three and let the chosen file all the paperwork for certificate of need.

The_Wilhenford
46
Points
The_Wilhenford 03/18/14 - 09:58 pm
4
2
get it together

whyme - I like the "Amazing Race" comment. I agree, just make a decision. University is the right answer. GRU would be horrible!

Riverman1
82449
Points
Riverman1 03/19/14 - 07:18 am
4
3
Doctors Should Also Pay Upfront

“That’s essentially what the chairman was saying is we’re willing to partner with anyone that can go forward and get the exception,” County Administrator Scott Johnson said.

So we are saying it’s back to the county contributing roughly $25 million. University has said they will give that money back up front as payment for future taxes. If Doctors wants the county contribution they should also agree to the upfront payment to offset the contribution.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 03/19/14 - 08:46 am
0
0
The CC taxpayer will pay for this "facade" one way or the other.
Unpublished

The CC taxpayer will pay for this "facade" one way or the other.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 03/19/14 - 08:47 am
0
0
Just another piece of the the EVANS entertainment complex.
Unpublished

Just another piece of the the EVANS entertainment complex.

Bizkit
30864
Points
Bizkit 03/19/14 - 08:49 am
4
3
Well if we don't get a

Well if we don't get a certificate of need is there anything citizens in Columbia county can do to protest. The length of travel from Columbia to Richmond county will statistically increase the risk of a poor outcomes in emergencies- studies have shown the time to hospital is critical. If you had a heart attack that in most instances you would survive if in Richmond county-but your chances in Columbia county will be slimmer.

soitgoes
786
Points
soitgoes 03/19/14 - 09:01 am
4
2
What we have here...

is a failure of leadership. But so it goes...

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 03/19/14 - 09:21 am
0
0
Is there any logic to approving more hospitals with empty beds?
Unpublished

Is there any logic to approving more hospitals with empty beds?

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 03/19/14 - 09:22 am
0
0
Can you guarantee that Ron Cross General will save you life? NO
Unpublished

Can you guarantee that Ron Cross General will save you life? NO

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 03/19/14 - 09:23 am
0
0
Every house in CC could have its own defibrillator at lower $$$
Unpublished

Every house in CC could have its own defibrillator at lower $$$

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 03/19/14 - 09:24 am
0
0
Critical and trauma already drive by 3 hospital to get to GRU?
Unpublished

Critical and trauma already drive by 3 hospital to get to GRU?

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 03/19/14 - 09:25 am
0
0
Empty hospital beds fit with empty suits in political power. $$$
Unpublished

Empty hospital beds fit with empty suits in political power. $$$

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 03/19/14 - 09:26 am
0
0
What is the price of an honest public servant? Never an issue.
Unpublished

What is the price of an honest public servant? Never an issue.

matjoe
30
Points
matjoe 03/19/14 - 09:26 am
4
3
I think the commision made a

I think the commision made a wise decision.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 03/19/14 - 09:27 am
0
0
Honest people don't spent their life savings on a $12K/year job
Unpublished

Honest people don't spent their life savings on a $12K/year job

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 03/19/14 - 09:29 am
0
0
Ron, CC really needs an "esplanode on the river" project.
Unpublished

RON, CC really needs an "Esplanade on the River" project.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 03/19/14 - 09:30 am
0
0
Marinerman1
4663
Points
Marinerman1 03/19/14 - 10:22 am
3
2
The Problem

I kind of understand the Commission's response last night. BUT, if you are going to "punt", then don't tell all of the media outlets that you will have a decision announced @ the meeting. @Riverman1 - I agree - if Doctor's is going to take the money, then they should be ready to repay upfront, just like University. And since Doctor's is a for-profit, the parent company has the money.

countyman
19735
Points
countyman 03/19/14 - 10:27 am
3
3
Hilarious

This article is extremely hilarious, because were constantly told the leadership in Columbia County is so much better..

A few of the residents in Columbia County have to make sarcastic comments about Deke, but he is clearly a better leader compared to Ron Cross..

What's the point of being a elected official if you don't even vote? This is the same county were public officials can steal thousands and not even pay the full amount back.

countyman
19735
Points
countyman 03/19/14 - 10:42 am
3
3
New slogan for 2014

Come to Columbia County and you'll have no worries!

We let the state decide everything!!!

Bizkit
30864
Points
Bizkit 03/19/14 - 11:27 am
4
4
County how amusing-like you

County how amusing-like you aren't biased-and wrong. I was born in Richmond county I am ashamed to say-but proud to live in Columbia county.

Riverman1
82449
Points
Riverman1 03/19/14 - 11:35 am
4
3
Slogan for past decade

Come to Richmond County and you'll have no worries!

We let Marion Williams and Co decide everything!!!

Countyman, if you don't hush, we're going to get the medical college moved to beautiful Columbia County on a campus that's safe and one they can be proud of. Don't forget the GRU cop has tased 24 people.

Riverman1
82449
Points
Riverman1 03/19/14 - 11:46 am
3
2
Countyman, did I hurt Dekey's little feelings?

Countyman, did I hurt Dekey's little feelings? Is he crying to you? He got to enthusiastically raise his hand for once in the straw vote about the marble palace like Johnny, the first grader, asking to use the restroom. I bet he was so excited.

countyman
19735
Points
countyman 03/19/14 - 12:01 pm
3
1
Hilarious

The comments are funny, because the same people love to comment on the perceived issuses of Richmond County. Yet, they immediately become defensive anytime someone mentions Columbia County.

Biz kit... How am I biased? When do I ever bash Columbia County for no reason? The bias can be found in your previous comment.

Why are you ashamed to be from the county with the most people, tourist, jobs, shopping, entertainment, industry, etc? I lived in both counties and don't understand the bias towards Richmond. The majority of visitors are coming to see Richmond County during the year. The overwhelmingly majority of the Masters guest will be staying in Richmond County.

Riverman.. The young people GRU is trying to attract would prefer a nice urban campus and not suburban..

Riverman1
82449
Points
Riverman1 03/19/14 - 12:06 pm
2
2
Heh, heh, heh, about Masters Visitors

Heh, heh, heh, about Masters visitors. We make the average yearly income of a Richmond County resident renting out our houses for a week.

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