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University, Doctors hospitals must wait to make case for ER in Evans

Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 4:23 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 1:25 AM
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Uni­ver­sity and Doctors hospitals say the state was wrong to deny them permission to put a free-standing emergency department in Evans. Getting to make that case at a hearing is likely many months away, a University official said.

Both hospitals have notified the Georgia Department of Com­munity Health that they plan to appeal the denial of their applications.

University had planned a $9.6 million, 18-bed facility on its Evans campus on North Belair Road. Doctors had submitted plans for a $9.8 million, 12-room center on the same road on property across from Marshall Square. The state rejected the applications Jan. 25, saying there was no need for new facilities in Columbia County because of the abundance of ER facilities nearby.

The next step will be to get a hearing with an administrative law judge to make their case, said Ed Burr, Uni­ver­sity’s vice president for legal affairs.

“Essentially, the issue is the agency got it wrong when they said there was no need,” he said.

Both hospitals say their emergency rooms are full and they will find it difficult or more expensive to expand on their existing campuses.

“The strongest argument on our behalf is just how crowded our emergency room is,” Doctors CEO Doug Welch said. “We need to add more beds. And we think adding those beds makes sense in Columbia County … to be closer to that population base. And it is a little bit less expensive to do it there versus here. So it makes sense. Better access for patients and a lower cost.”

Burr doesn’t expect to have a hearing soon.

“We probably would be lucky to get an administrative law judge hearing done this year,” he said. “It’s possible but it would be late in the year, if it happens.”

Eastside Medical Center in Snellville, Ga., was blocked from opening a free-standing ER in neighboring Walton County in mid-December, and its appeal hearing was scheduled for the end of May, Burr said. The state has never granted permission for a free-standing ER, though South Carolina and many other states have.

The administrative law judge has 30 days after the hearing to issue an opinion. That opinion will be sent to the commissioner of the Department of Community Health or his designee, who can uphold or reverse the decision to deny the certificate of need.

If the denial is upheld, the hospitals can file suit in Superior Court, likely in Columbia County if past cases are an example.

“If it is an issue of agency policy, then the courts are going to give deference to the agency,” Burr said.

“The chance of success they’ve told us is small, but there’s a chance,” Welch said.

The appeal could give the hospital a chance to bolster its case, Burr said.

“We know that there was a lot of support for the idea” in Columbia County, he said. “We thought we had done a pretty fair job of making that case in the application. Maybe we can do a better job in the hearing.”

If nothing else, Welch said, perhaps the appeal will lead the state to set out more specific rules for where free-standing ERs can go and give health care facilities a better chance to plan for them.

“At this point in time, for us to maintain our efficiency, we’re going to have to do something,” he said. “And I don’t want to invest multimillion dollars here on campus if potentially in a year or two or three I might be able to do that in Columbia County.”

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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 02/25/13 - 10:12 pm
Too Many

Come on, guys, admit it; there might be a case for one modest-sized ER in Evans, but two would be overkill. If one of the contenders would back out (or if the two would form a single joint-venture) then the idea might have a chance.

Doctors Hospital ER is just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Columbia County Line. University can probably make the better logistical case.

LocalLawyer 02/26/13 - 12:14 am
I thought about this a lot

I thought about this a lot today, and I don't see the need IF, and only IF, tax dollars are at stake, which I assume they are if they need to ask permission. There are thousands of Georgians who are miles away from emergency care. As much as I'd love to have one in Columbia County (I live there), I don't see the fiscal need if it's going to cost the taxpayers - especially when so many other Georgians are miles away from emergency care. In all honesty, I'd almost say that University and Doctors see $ signs, because they know more citizens in CC have health insurance and would be more likely to go to an E.R. for non-emergency cases if they didn't have to drive downtown or to Wheeler Rd. But I certainly could be wrong there. I agree with Little Lamb, Doctors (although I'd never go there unless I was burned - I'd go to University), is extremely close to a lot of CC. The State is broke too, fyi. So if this does involve tax dollars (which I admit I have not looked into), then I'd say no at this time. It does create jobs, but are those jobs necessary given the economy? It's time for our politicians to batten down the hatches.

soapy_725 02/26/13 - 10:01 am
What happened to the propsed MCG

unit on Washington Rd in the Euchee Creek Swamp? Portions of the "coming soon" sign remain in the right of way? Did they get an updated 100 year flood map?

Doctors Hospital ER is so over crowded that they have a giant billboard advertising appointment in minutes via phone or text.

A executive at University citing loses stated, "that UH needed more elective surgeries and followup surgeries" to make money.

Maybe technology and arthroscopic surgery has backfired. Out patient surgeries up versus long patient stay in hospital.

Bottom line of course is money. The making of money and more money. Care for the sick and wounded is secondary. Stop the flow of money and see how long they stay open for free medical care.

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