LEE CO., GA (WALB) - It was announced in June of 2016 that the site of the Grand Island Golf Club would be transformed into a hospital.
In a meeting that summer, the Parks and Recreation Department of Lee County voted to deed the Grand Island Golf Club to the county's development authority. The same day, the Lee County Commission voted 5-0 to agree to a Memorandum of Understanding to build the hospital.
County officials said the deal for the hospital had been in the works for over two years.
Grand Island members said they were disappointed and felt the hospital could be built somewhere else in the county.
"I think the hospital would be good for Lee County. I just hate to see it's on this facility on this property. But you know it could be put somewhere else, I guess," said Tom Martin, a Grand Island member since its opening in 1995.
Homeowners were not happy. The Grand Island Homeowners Association filed a lawsuit in November against the Lee County Parks and Recreation authority. At the time, a temporary restraining order was issued to stop construction preparation.
Residents on the property believed the hospital getting built on the golf course breaks an easement clause in their contract. The clause states residents have a perpetual easement to protect the view of the golf course from their homes and the view of their homes from the golf course.
"These folks bought these homes knowing these covenants and restrictions and easements were all in place perpetually for their use and their benefit," said Grand Island Homeowner's Association Attorney David Orlowski.
Another part of the lawsuit claims their land deeds guarantee no barriers will block the view of the golf course property without the written permission of all the home owners. They feel the proposed hospital and other development will violate that.
A month later, Lee County leaders were celebrating. A judge ruled in the county's favor that the hospital does not violate the neighborhood covenants the homeowners had. The judge said the covenants expired, and the hospital wouldn't violate that clause anyway because it would be at least 500 feet away from the homes.
"We want something that all of South Georgia can be really proud of," said Lee County Commission Chairman Rick Muggridge.
The proposal includes a $30-$50 million 60-bed short stay acute-care hospital along with a $4 million, 18-hole par 3 lighted golf course, a restaurant, and a virtual golf and hunting business. The most up-to-date proposal total was $130 million. Palmyra District Lee County Commissioner Billy Mathis said the proposal would create between 50 to 85 jobs, and probably generate $200,000 of tax money into the Lee County budget.
On April 19, 2017 the Lee County Medical Center OPCO, LLC, a Nashville, TN based company, started the state licensing process to build a hospital in Lee County. In their letter of intent to file a Certificate of Need Application, the group says the estimated cost of the project is not to exceed $130 million. The primary service area is Lee County, with secondary service to encompass Crisp, Dougherty, Sumter, Worth, and Terrell County.
Members of the Grand Island Homeowners Association said they became even more concerned about the proposed size of the facility. A spokesman for the homeowners association said commissioners said the estimated costs would be closer to $50 million.
In late April, the chairman of the Lee County Commission, along with all officials and county employees, faced an extensive open records request, asking for all documents pertaining to the new proposed hospital in the county. The request was filed by Brantley Phillips, a Nashville, TN based attorney, who said he was only acting as an individual.
At the beginning of May, Phoebe's board heard an analysis of how the proposed for-profit hospital, backed by a private real estate trust, will impact their health system.
A study completed by an outside consulting firm, DHG Healthcare, revealed that a new Lee County hospital would damage the level of care Phoebe offers patients. A spokesman for the not-for-profit hospital said besides level of care problems, there could be job losses. The study showed a potential financial loss of $250 million dollars by year five after a Lee hospital opens.
Phoebe officials pointed out that "it provided $9.2 million dollars in unreimbursed care to Lee County citizens last year."
The Certificate of Need application was filed May 18 with the Georgia Department of Community Health, for permission to build a new hospital on the Grand Island site. County leaders said the hospital could provide both acute and emergency care services including an ICU medical and surgical unit, inpatient and outpatient services, and more.
They also project that it will provide nearly $6 million in uncompensated care and nearly $12 million by year two. The hospital will create more than 350 jobs, which is double the amount stated in initial the letter of intent to file certificate of need.
Several questions still need to be answered, like who will manage the hospital and will taxpayers have to assist with the building costs.
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