Which Georgia is this?

State's denial of emergency rooms takes regulation too far

Can you imagine the state government stepping in and deciding you’ve got enough restaurants in your area? Or hardware stores? Or grocery stores?

Then why in heaven would a state block your city from getting a hospital emergency room – which provides services that are infinitely more paramount?

Two Augusta hospitals, Doctors and University, wanted to build freestanding emergency departments in Evans – amid an exploding Columbia County population that now has no hospital emergency rooms.

Columbia Countians in the throes of medical emergencies currently must travel up to 25 or 30 minutes to Augusta to get care. Those in surrounding counties have an even longer drive.

And once they get there? One hospital official we talked to said emergency room waits at most Augusta hospitals can drag on as long as eight to 10 hours or more. And while not all people there are really experiencing emergencies, an increasing number are – baby boomers, for instance, who’ve not taken good care of themselves and are having chest pains, heart attacks and more.

Even such acute emergencies are experiencing sometimes hours-long waits, which can be dangerous if not fatal. Some patients are even walking out before they’re seen.

“These are really sick people,” the official told us.

We find it a tad oppressive for the state government to be telling a region of Georgia that it doesn’t need health care. We find it an outrage that a bureaucrat or board would deign to say such a thing when two hospitals – who should know – say otherwise.

Whom are you going to believe? Hospitals – two of them – that have done their due diligence and are willing to risk millions of dollars? Or bureaucrats in Atlanta?

We understand the need for regulation of health care facilities. Unnecessary duplication, in the name of cutthroat competition, could actually hurt the delivery of health care by diluting it and driving up costs, perhaps even resulting in the failure of facilities. We get that.

But Columbia County is nowhere near that point. And honestly, this case proves the regulation has gone way overboard to the point of oppression. People will suffer, and may even die, as a result of this decision by the state’s Department of Community Health.

We would have hoped the bureaucrats would have shown a little more deference to the hospitals, the free market, and the health and well-being of this region. But that’s government for you.

Yet, it’s not all governments, mind you. Georgia’s is particularly oppressive. The hospital official we talked to noted that national hospital chains have much better luck getting emergency care approved in other states. In those states, it’s a win-win: Residents get better and quicker care, while hospitals can try to make ends meet with more profitable emergency operations.

It’s particularly outrageous that in Georgia, the government is starving traditional hospital operations with drastically reduced reimbursement rates – while denying them the opportunity to make a little money with emergency rooms. It’s a Catch-22 that is squeezing health care. Nobody wins.

We hope the hospitals appeal this perfectly awful decision in court and win. But we can’t hold out much hope for that – as most judges will rightly show the executive branch the same deference that the executive branch ought to be showing the public.

A better outcome might be for the legislature to reform the “certificate of need” process to force the state to give more weight to the wisdom of the markets – and the willingness of health care professionals to take calculated risks to deliver better and more immediate care to regions that need it.

Georgia – yes, this one, not the one in Eastern Europe – has taken central planning way too far.

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