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Panel punts hospital decision to commission

Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 10:21 PM
Last updated Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 9:09 AM
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Three Augusta hospitals made their case Wednesday night to a special advisory committee about why each should be chosen to help Columbia County shed its label as Georgia’s largest without a hospital.

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University Hospital's Jim Davis proposed a 100-bed, $130 million-$140 million hospital.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
University Hospital's Jim Davis proposed a 100-bed, $130 million-$140 million hospital.

In the end, though, none of them got the nod.

Doctors Hospital, Georgia Regents Health System and University Hospital each painted different visions of why they should be the one to work with the county on getting state permission to build a hospital there.

The Columbia County Hospital Review Committee, however, voted not to make a recommendation to the Columbia County Commission on which bid works best for the county.

Committee member Barry Paschal, who made the motion to defer the decision back to the commission, said a lot of the committee members did not feel comfortable taking a public stand on behalf of an individual hospital. But questions asked by the committee and answered during the presentations should give commission members a better understanding of those proposals, he said.

Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said some of the committee members became uncomfortable once their closed meeting was made a public meeting, after a protest by The Augusta Chronicle. Commission members will still need time to study the proposals and might have to schedule a special work session to do that, he said.

“We will have to do it in open session,” Cross said.

Whoever is chosen would have to seek a Certificate of Need from the state that would allow it to build a hospital. Doctors and University were denied certificates last year for competing proposals to build freestanding Emergency Departments in Columbia County.

The state ruled the county is adequately served by emergency services at Augusta hospitals. And with a surplus of hospital beds in Augusta, “it would be very difficult” to meet the needs standard for additional beds in Columbia County, University CEO Jim Davis said.

County officials instead are pinning their hopes on three exceptions to the needs standard: if the proposal comes from an existing teaching hospital or if it is from an existing trauma center or if the county assumes 20 percent of the cost of construction. None of the exceptions has ever been tried.

Georgia Regents’ bid would address two of those exceptions, as both a teaching hospital and Level One Trauma Center, which would require no funding from the county, said David Hefner, the executive vice president for clinical affairs at Georgia Regents University.

The health system also had the most extravagant of the three proposals, establishing a $280 million-$310 million “health campus” in the county with a satellite of the university and a 144-bed hospital with a Level II trauma center that would employ 750-900 people.

GRU would pay for it out of “cash on hand, public or private debt instruments or some combination of these sources,” according to the bid.

One problem with its proposal is while GR Health owns land in the county, it would not be adequate and it would have to work with the county on a location. If chosen, the health system would work with the county on the best site but it would likely need 80-100 acres and would likely be west of Belair Road, said Shawn Vincent, the vice president of partnerships, international health care and strategic alliances.

In response to a question from the committee about negative publicity and the need to build trust with the county, GRU President Ricardo Azziz took that head-on and acknowledged some of that is him.

“When you are the face of an organization, you’re the face for both success and failures,” he said. “When we’ve done as much as we’ve done, you will make mistakes and I am responsible for those mistakes, whether I am directly or not doesn’t really matter. It’s important to remind, not just this group but this community in general, that at the end of the day leaders will be magnets for both positive and negative feelings but that shouldn’t really affect the vision of the future and what is being built.”

At less than a mile from the border with the county, Doctors touted itself as the greatest provider of health care services already to Columbia County, accounting for nearly half of emergency room visits by county residents.

Doctors is proposing a $150 million, 108-bed hospital with a Level III trauma center. That will probably just be the starting point and it will grow in services, much as the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors started with 2 beds and now is the country’s largest with 70 beds, said Dr. Fred Mullins, the medical director.

Doctors’ proposed hospital would add about $1.5 million in property taxes to the county, the proposal noted.

Doctors plans to use the trauma exception as it hopes to be named a trauma center later this year. CEO Doug Welch said the hospital must collect data for six months and then be surveyed by the state, which could happen by June or July, but he did not see that would be a problem.

But Davis said he thinks the only exception the state will accept is the county putting in 20 percent, and University is the only bidder asking the county to do that. The trauma and teaching hospital exceptions require “existing” services and neither of those is currently in Columbia County, he said.

“The other proposals will be turned away at the state level,” Davis said.

By putting up its own funds for the proposed 100-bed, $130 million-$140 million hospital, which would be $26 million-$28 million that can be deferred, the county shows state officials the hospital is important to the community, he said.

“This shows that the service is needed and the county is buying into it,” Davis said.

For University’s part, it will forego a tax exemption and pay property tax on the hospital, which would be about $1.5 million a year.

The hospital would go on the 68-acre Evans campus University has been developing since 1986 off North Belair Road. It would also benefit from all of the existing University offices and facilities there but also the other medical offices that chose to settle nearby because of the campus.

“It is the thriving medical hub of Columbia County,” Davis said. “We think it is the ideal location” for a new hospital.

Staff Writer Steve Crawford contributed to this story.

Proposals

UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL

Beds 100

Size in square feet 252,000

Cost $130-$140 million

Cost to county $26-$28 million

Proposed employment 250-300

TAX STATUS: Tax exempt but will not seek it for property tax

PROPOSED SITE: University Campus fronting North Belair Road, Evans



GEORGIA REGENTS HEALTH SYSTEM

Beds 144

Size in square feet 435,000

Cost $280 million-$310 million

Cost to county None

Proposed employment 750-900

TAX STATUS: Tax exempt

PROPOSED SITE: TBD


DOCTORS HOSPITAL

Beds 108

Size in square feet 228,035

Cost $150 million

Cost to county Possibly none, or $30 million

Proposed employment 525

 TAX STATUS: Anticipate $1.5 million a year

 PROPOSED SITE: 745 N. Belair Road, Evans

Comments (16) Add comment
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itsanotherday1
45338
Points
itsanotherday1 02/20/14 - 01:01 am
5
0
So, the whole "committee"

So, the whole "committee" idea was a waste of time. Why don't people have the stones to stand up and offer an opinion? I'm embarrassed for Paschal.

Riverman1
86855
Points
Riverman1 02/20/14 - 05:25 am
6
2
Keep The Wallet Closed

Jim Davis of University appears to be painting a picture of the necessity of the county contributing 20%. Sure he is going to say the CON would be turned down without the exception although there has been absolutely zero evidence presented there would be such an outcome. We have only had various people from two hospitals voicing their opinions as they sought county money.

I don’t see it mentioned in the article, but I hope questions were raised about the profits being invested to grow the Columbia County hospital and not sent to Richmond County owned University or used mainly for MCG downtown. Doctors has its own unique set of limitations with it being a national corporation and its shareholders seeking profits. They also do not have a cardiac surgery program.

The future goal should be a full service hospital, providing specialty care and jobs for many. The demographics are there. The county role should be to have requirements that county interests are understood and met. The committee acted wisely. Let the hospitals pursue the state CON without the county supporting a particular hospital.

Riverman1
86855
Points
Riverman1 02/20/14 - 05:41 am
4
2
Committee Nonaction is Action

“Committee member Barry Paschal, who made the motion to defer the decision back to the commission, said a lot of the committee members did not feel comfortable taking a public stand on behalf of an individual hospital.”

Understand the implications behind that statement. Why do you think some don’t want their stance known? This decision is a huge one with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. If the committee had voted privately we have to assume there would have been a decision. Also, thanks to those on the committee who felt it was inappropriate for the county to take sides. Barry Paschal may have also felt this way with his motion. I don’t know. This no decision has stopped at least temporarily what has been carefully orchestrated. Thanks to the Chronicle for the open meeting.

corgimom
34022
Points
corgimom 02/20/14 - 08:53 am
5
1
Disband the committee, they

Disband the committee, they are worthless.

soapy_725
43757
Points
soapy_725 02/20/14 - 09:08 am
0
0
Open meetings are a big problem in CC. Wonder why?
Unpublished

Open meetings are a big problem in CC. Wonder why?

soapy_725
43757
Points
soapy_725 02/20/14 - 09:08 am
0
0
Transparent public servants are a problem in CC. Wonder why?
Unpublished

Transparent public servants are a problem in CC. Wonder why?

soapy_725
43757
Points
soapy_725 02/20/14 - 09:10 am
0
0
Every segment of CC government is based on greed and fraud.
Unpublished

Who will ride the gravy train next?

my.voice
4914
Points
my.voice 02/20/14 - 09:32 am
6
0
Can we please have AUGUSTA in

Can we please have AUGUSTA in the name? Oh, wait, wrong committee.

Mr. Thackeray
953
Points
Mr. Thackeray 02/20/14 - 09:44 am
3
2
Cowards!

Cowards!

seenitB4
90695
Points
seenitB4 02/20/14 - 10:12 am
6
1
On the committee

Can yall please put riverman on there...I don't know if we can live with him on here if it goes the wrong way..:)

Little Lamb
46903
Points
Little Lamb 02/20/14 - 10:20 am
2
0
Allen

Shouldn't the Commission wait until Charles Allen is replaced before discussing and voting on this very important matter? You know Allen had to have knowledge of his wife’s chicanery.

729
Points
Barry Paschal 02/20/14 - 10:57 am
10
1
Regarding the committee's action

I'm intrigued at the idea that some of those here would refer to an 11-member committee of private citizens serving on behalf of their community as "cowards" and "worthless," while hiding behind the protection of anonymity. The parameters of the agreement under which each of us were asked to serve on the committee changed, and when it changed the committee felt we no longer were able to perform the task as requested. As a friend analogized, it created the equivalent of holding job interviews in which all the candidates were in the room. As a result, we deferred our recommendation to the commission. Keep in mind: It's ultimately their decision anyway; the committee was serving to give broader representation to those evaluating the hospital proposals.

I would think most constituents would appreciate the fact that the commissioners sought additional assistance with a very complicated process, and that those constituents would appreciate the service of private citizens who agreed to give up a significant amount of their time on behalf of their community. Hopefully the ill-conceived opinions reflected from behind keyboards here - calling those volunteers "cowards" - isn't representative of the larger, and clearly better informed, community.

justthefacts
22681
Points
justthefacts 02/20/14 - 11:30 am
6
0
As they say

"No good deed goes unpunished".

jbartley
573
Points
jbartley 02/20/14 - 01:55 pm
3
0
Everything should be open!

It is about time Ron Cross got called out on closed door meetings. There are boards that meet all the time with no advertising the meeting time and place.

Riverman1
86855
Points
Riverman1 02/20/14 - 04:17 pm
4
1
No Preference

SeenIt said, "Can yall please put riverman on there...I don't know if we can live with him on here if it goes the wrong way..:)"

Honestly, there is no right way for me. I have no preference in the matter other than ensuring Columbia County has in writing safeguards. That's something I haven't seen discussed. When I see things getting slanted, I try to correct, but I'm open to all three or even more applying for the CON.

Just My Opinion
5859
Points
Just My Opinion 02/20/14 - 04:52 pm
5
1
Barry, one thing I've learned

Barry, one thing I've learned as I get older is that there is often more to the story than we originally know, and that appears to be the case here. Getting your guidelines changed midstream isn't what any of y'all signed up for, so I can't say I really blame y'all. It's a pity, because I'm sure y'all were each "gung-ho" on getting the matter more clearly defined where a clear decision could be made. I can see where you saw yourselves in a no-win situation. I appreciate y'all at least trying to serve our community!
However, one thing that I do not agree with you on is the entire anonymity thing when posting comments. Obviously, I have decided to keep my identity anonymous, as have many, many others. But I tend to feel that some of us...not all, but some...have a reason for keeping our real names off. Sure, some people like to get on here and call others "cowards" because they know they can get away with it...not a very mature thing to do. However, some people are able to add vital and intriguing information to the comments that serve to educate or enlighten others, without fear of reprisal from their job or social position. Why is that difficult to understand? To be honest, you know in your previous position with the paper, you had knowledge of matters that other people did not, and you would NEVER share that knowledge with others in this forum because, for one reason, you could be fired. However, if you maintained your anonymity, you could share it without fear of retaliation. That's it. I'm not trying to open up a can of worms here. I just wanted you and some of the other self-identity proponents to see the other side and not keep banging the "you're chicken crap because you don't post your name!" drum!

729
Points
Barry Paschal 02/20/14 - 05:47 pm
4
1
Thanks for making my point

Just My Opinion said: "However, some people are able to add vital and intriguing information to the comments that serve to educate or enlighten others, without fear of reprisal from their job or social position."

Exactly. Among many other issues we had to consider, when the rules changed for our committee and we were no longer able to render a decision as a group, but instead had to be identified as individuals, we were no longer comfortable because of "fear of reprisal from (our) job or social position." Yet instead of understanding that reality, some anonymous commenters hid behind their keyboards to call us "cowards."

See the inherent hypocrisy?

Just My Opinion
5859
Points
Just My Opinion 02/20/14 - 09:22 pm
1
0
Not to beat a dead horse or

Not to beat a dead horse or to go off on a tangent from this story, but yes, I do see your point. But, along with that, you HAVE to see that it really goes both ways and you're proving MY point as well.
Now, as far as the people who make brazen and insensitive remarks, well, they are going to be everywhere, aren't they? Personally, I don't have a FaceBook account, but I do read some comments on it, and I always see people making bold remarks on there that I can't believe they'd make right to someone's face! And it seems they couldn't care less that their name (and sometimes photo!) was attached right to it! Jerks are going to be jerks, no matter if their true name is known or not.
Why not just call this "Mr. Thackeray" out? Right here, right now?
Mr. Thackeray, why don't you explain yourself and your insensitive "Cowards" comment? Is that all you have to say about this issue?
Barry, you know good and well that this person is checking, and re-checking this article's comment section, seeing what is new and seeing if his post has been mentioned. Well, come on Mr. T....be a man, or woman or whatever it is you are, and give some more information. Personally, when it comes to situations like this, if someone only puts in one insipid comment and won't back it up, then I just brush it off as meaningless. But that's just me.

Esctab
926
Points
Esctab 02/24/14 - 06:25 pm
0
1
Rather pathetic

Ricky Ricardo Azziz has done nothing to improve upon the distrust factor; his response to the issue at the meeting was pathetic; he really didn't own up to the issue either.
My wallet remains closed to GRU.

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