More debate over impact of new Lee hospital

More debate over impact of new Lee hospital
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)

Lee County's Vice Chairman Billy Mathis said not only is there a need for a new hospital in the Albany area, but he thinks it will help bring down health care costs.

On Wednesday, Phoebe management released their new data showing potential losses they say could not only cut services the community hospital provides, but also hurt the regional economy.

"The answer to your question is, there absolutely, is a need for this in our area," said Mathis.

Mathis said the healthcare organization that will operate out of the facility will be named soon.

The Nashville, Tennessee real estate investment company, MedEquities Realty Trust, is behind the proposed $130 million dollar, 60-bed, acute-care hospital in southern Lee County, along the Dougherty County border, which is a short drive to Phoebe's main campus five miles away.

"Our focus is to provide a choice, an option, for high quality care for this community," said Mathis.

"New hospitals are not common in our state," Chris Kane told Phoebe Hospital Board members. Kane is a consultant with DHG Healthcare, who was hired by Phoebe to conduct an economic impact study.

According to Kane, only three new hospitals in three new communities have been approved by the Department of Community Health since the early 1980's.

The most recent, a proposed hospital in Columbia County, a bedroom community adjacent to Augusta, is in litigation.

Phoebe board members and management are now preparing for the impact a new hospital could have on the services they provide.

In a statement from a hospital spokesperson to WALB, "Phoebe provides many services which are unfunded or underfunded. If a new hospital is constructed in Lee County, an evaluation of every service for sustainability would occur. Those most likely to face scrutiny would be vital services we provide as southwest Georgia's safety net hospital, many in collaboration with the State and other local mission-based providers. Unlike many other Georgia safety net hospitals, Phoebe receives no local tax support to defray costs of uninsured patients."

That means if Phoebe takes a large financial hit, there could be cuts to services that are important, but don't make money, like the neonatal unit.

For Lee County, the hospital will substantially increase it's tax revenue.

"It is going to be a great economic impact on our community, it will bring in over a million dollars a year in added revenue to the county and the school board," said Mathis.

Phoebe officials point out the $5.4 million dollars in annual community services it paid for in Dougherty and Lee Counties, and that it provided $9.2 million dollars in unreimbursed care to Lee County citizens last year.

"If they consider that a burden, the new hospital will provide indigent care, so it would seem to me, to be a logical argument, if the new hospital is providing indigent care, that would be a benefit to the other hospital, because they then won't have to provide that indigent care," Mathis responded.

For now, very little is known about the for-profit hospital, but Mathis says metro-Albany supported a second hospital in the past, and can again.

"If we can bring some choice, a choice in high quality health care to this area, obviously it will bring down the cost of health care here. Which is very important to a lot of people."

A Certificate of Need for the proposed hospital is expected to be filed May 18th.

It is expected to provide more information, including the name of the health care organization behind it, and the services it will provide.

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