Lee County leaders plan to move forward with hospital

Commissioners approved the Memorandum of Agreement (Source:WALB)
Commissioners approved the Memorandum of Agreement (Source:WALB)
Published: Jun. 15, 2016 at 3:03 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 15, 2016 at 3:45 AM EDT
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Rick Muggridge, Chairman (Source:WALB)
Rick Muggridge, Chairman (Source:WALB)
Brice Bonner (Source:WALB)
Brice Bonner (Source:WALB)

LEE CO., GA (WALB) - Lee County commissioners approved a plan to give residents a new health care choice, the county's first hospital.

Grand Island Golf Club will be the future home of the private, for-profit hospital.

The County will be responsible for constructing roads to the site and the sewer utilities to the facility.

Commission Chairman Rick Muggridge said that the county has been looking into the project for more than half a decade.

"Asking, knocking on doors and just trying to find the right partnership. It was a long time coming, but we're excited about this day," explained Muggridge.

Crews are expected to break ground on the project early next year and county leaders hope the hospital will be open in three years.

The hospital is expected to be a $30 million to $50 million project.

Leaders will now apply for a Certificate of Need from the Georgia Department of Community Health. If that's granted, the county will issue bonds to pay for construction.

The county would lease the hospital to a national health care corporation, though county officials have not publicly named that company.

Golfers who play at Grand Island are disappointed the hospital means their favorite course will be going away.

The tentative plan is to close at least 9 holes by February 1 to make way for construction and the rest of the course would be closed later.

The county still has to pay outstanding loans and other obligations on the golf course.

Golfer Brice Bonner said that the possibility of losing the club where he learned to play is upsetting.

"This was really the only place to go that isn't private," said Bonner. "So, if you take away Grand Island, it really diminishes the golf chances for a lot of kids, a lot of people growing up who want to get in the game."

The course will operate as normal until early next year.

WALB asked what Phoebe Putney Hospital leaders thought about the potential new competition.

President and CEO Joel Wernick issued a statement saying:

At this time, we know no more than what the media has reported and have had no contact from Lee County officials.  As the region's referral center for advanced care, we are curious as to what new services will be offered and whether this means the Lee County Commission is now going to assist with the annual charity and indigent care Phoebe currently provides to Lee County citizens, which totaled over $9 million in fiscal year 2015.

Muggridge said it's too early to address that question.

Phoebe Putney will not be able to challenge the Certificate of Need Application for the new hospital.

Phoebe has successfully opposed new health care services in the past.

Last March, Phoebe reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission to end a 4 year battle.

Phoebe agreed not to challenge any application for a new hospital for 5 years and not to buy any part of a hospital for 10 years.

The FTC maintained Phoebe's takeover of the former Palmyra Medical Center created an illegal monopoly, but by the time the US Supreme Court ruled on the issue, the merger was too far along to undo.

Copyright 2016 WALB. All rights reserved.