Appeals, Phoebe involvement discussed as proposed LCMC deadline approaches

Appeals, Phoebe involvement discussed as proposed LCMC deadline approaches
A decision is expected by next week (Source: WALB)
An opposition response was filed (Source: WALB)
An opposition response was filed (Source: WALB)

LEE CO., GA (WALB) - Those applying for a hospital to be built in Lee County are expecting to find out the controversial project's fate in the next week.

Recently, those behind the proposal filed a response to those against the proposed medical center.

In just days, months of debate could all come to a head as the Georgia Department of Community Health decides to approve or deny the Certificate of Need for the Lee County Medical Center.

"I will tell you that I feel incredibly good about our application," Lee County Commissioner Rick Muggridge said. "Its completeness from day one and about where we fit into this CON law."

The proposed hospital, though, has had some outspoken critics.

Some believe an appeal could be filed to halt the project if it were approved, but Muggridge said he believes all opponents have no legal ground to do so.

"The first response is none of the people opposed have standing," explained Muggridge. "The people that you've identified that can't contest it."

Muggridge explained that in order to appeal, you either have to be the applicant (LCMC), or an opponent to the project that is a government in the same county or a competing health care facility.

When asked whether Lee County would appeal if the CON does get denied, Muggridge said the county will assess its options when the time comes.

"So, at that point in time, we'll have to put our heads together, what will it take for us to meet this requirement in the eyes of community health," Muggridge said. "Then, [we would] decide if that is an investment that, or is that a requirement that, we're willing to make."

He said he believes Crisp Regional shouldn't be considered a competing healthcare facility because so few people from Lee County get treated there.

MORE: Crisp Regional Hospital files letter of opposition to Lee Co. Medical Center

Opposition response documents state that those behind the proposed LCMC project believe Phoebe Putney Memorial has been getting involved in the CON process, by feeding studies and documents to Crisp Regional and the Georgia Alliance of Community hospitals, which a Federal Trade Commission order prohibits.

LCMC CON applicants stated documents submitted by the two opposition groups could have only come from Phoebe, including an internal, non-public, report.

"The attorneys involved basically feel like this was sort of an end around," Muggridge said. "That, they can't oppose it directly. So, through surrogates, have voiced their opposition."

Phoebe officials said the hospital has not worked with those opposing it.

"Phoebe has not provided any information to any individual or group to assist them in their opposition to the proposed Lee County hospital Certificate of Need application," said Senior Vice President/General Counsel Dawn Benson in a statement sent to WALB via email.  "We take our voluntary agreement with the Federal Trade Commission extremely seriously and have not violated the order. Any suggestion to the contrary is false."

Regardless of the debate, a decision is expected by November 15, which means the process is one step closer to completion.

Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals President Monty Veazey said his organization can't appeal the decision, but Crisp Regional can and is planning on doing so.

WALB has reached out to Crisp Regional to confirm the claim.

In the last three years, Department of Community Health Officials said eight new hospitals applied for a Certificate of Need, and all but one decision was appealed.

Copyright 2017 WALB. All rights reserved.

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