University Hospital’s board voted Thursday to pursue a proposal to build a $150 million hospital in Columbia County and CEO Jim Davis believes the health care system has some advantages over other potential suitors.
“We have a large investment already in our Evans campus with two large physician office buildings, an urgent care center and a couple of small physician offices as well,” he said. “We actually have blueprints to expand that campus into a 100-bed hospital that have been there since 2007.”
Much has changed in health care since then, particularly in how patients use the hospital and how the hospital is paid for services, so those plans would have to be revised, Davis said.
University and Doctors Hospital were shot down earlier this year on similar but competing proposals to build a free-standing Emergency Department in Columbia County, the state’s largest county without a hospital. The Georgia Department of Community Health ruled there were adequate resources in Augusta to serve the county and the proposals failed to demonstrate the need to add more and denied the necessary Certificate of Need.
But Columbia County officials are looking at exceptions that could still land them a CON to build a hospital and one of them would be if the county pays for 20 percent of the cost.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross said they are looking at a 100-bed full-service hospital with a trauma unit and Davis said the estimate for that would be about $150 million, which would obligate the county for $30 million.
Columbia County has also talked with Doctors Hospital about submitting a proposal and they are “relatively sure” they will, Cross said. The county has talked with Georgia Regents University and its health system and feel a proposal will be forthcoming from them, he said. Davis said he has heard that entities outside the Augusta area might be interested but Cross said he has only heard from the three Augusta providers.
The proposals are due Jan. 10, after which the county will pick a partner and put together a proposal. Neither of the two possible exceptions in the CON law have been used before and there is a lot of interest from the DCH board and its commissioner to see what the proposal will be, Cross said.
“They’ve encouraged us to go ahead and get a partner and send it on in,” he said. “That’s not necessarily a positive or a negative. They stressed very much that nothing had ever been submitted with those exceptions and they really didn’t know how they would view it.”
However the county picks, there will almost certainly be a challenge from other parties, Davis said.
“Whoever doesn’t get it is going to challenge and we might have challenges from outside the market as well because there are a lot of people who are a little nervous about someone building a new hospital,” he said. “We’re hearing rumblings of that already.”
Because of the uncharted nature of the proposal and the likelihood of challenges and appeals, whomever is chosen might not get to break ground until 2015, Davis said.
The proposal is “the first step in what I consider a marathon event,” he said.