Department of Health approves CON for proposed Lee Co. hospital

Department of Health approves CON for proposed Lee Co. hospital
The proposed Lee Co. Hospital
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)
CON application for the Lee Co. Hospital from the Department of Health (Source: WALB)
CON application for the Lee Co. Hospital from the Department of Health (Source: WALB)
Supporters of the proposed hospital celebrated with a party Wednesday night. (Source: WALB)
Supporters of the proposed hospital celebrated with a party Wednesday night. (Source: WALB)

LEE CO., GA (WALB) - Lee County Commission Vice Chairman Billy Mathis told WALB News 10 that the Georgia Department of Community Health has granted Lee County's Certificate of Need for the proposed Lee County hospital.

Proponents celebrate a victory

"This is an exciting milestone for our county," said Mathis. "Our number one priority is to do what's right for our community, and we appreciate the department's effort in allowing us to provide the high-quality health care our community wants and deserves."

Lee County leaders celebrated the milestone by holding a party to toast to a day that's been years in the making.

"To finally get the news that we were approved for a certificate of need, I think it's a big thing for our citizens not just in Lee County but all of the surrounding counties in Southwest Georgia," remarked Commissioner Luke Singletary.

Singletary said the hospital approval was possible because of all the people who worked to make a reality.

"We have done all that we can do when things are asked of us we provide it," Singletary explained.

Since the start, there's been a lot of opposition to the proposed hospital.

"The naysayers weren't that loud in what we were doing, I mean we had overwhelming support from a number of people," Singletary added.

If all goes according to plan, the county expects to break ground on the hospital in early 2018. Mathis said project managers will begin work in the immediate future.

Lee officials said that the 60-bed hospital will provide more than 350 good-paying jobs, training opportunities for medical and professional students and a total economic impact of $38 million.

What it took to get here

Mathis likened the application process to fighting monsters in the dark and said, now, all battles by those appealing the decision will play out in public.

The decision document outlines all requirements the project needed to meet in order to be approved.

That includes questions opposition groups raised regarding the need for a new hospital and its funding through revenue bonds issued by the county development authority.

Pushing forward in the wake of opposition

In the past several months, the Colquitt Regional Medical Center, the Dougherty County Commission, Crisp Regional Medical Center and the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals filed opposition to the proposed medical center with the Department of Community Health.

Since then, Colquitt Regional withdrew its opposition.

"After closely reviewing the number of patients from Lee County using our facility, the decision was made to withdraw the opposition to the CON request due to the relatively low numbers of inpatient admissions," said a spokesperson for the hospital.

On Wednesday, WALB News 10 reached out to the others who formally opposed the hospital. Many said they were still looking over the details of what the department of community health released.

Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas said the commissioners are going to digest the opinion with their attorneys and move forward with whatever steps are necessary.

Cohilas said there is going to be a significant adverse impact to the people and taxpayers of Dougherty County, but unfortunately he doesn't believe that was taken into consideration by the review board.

Mathis said he doesn't believe any party, which has filed opposition to the hospital, has legal grounds to appeal its decision, although he said he believes Crisp Regional may try to.

Crisp Regional released this statement after the CON for the proposed Lee County Medical Center was approved:

The DCH decision to support an out-of-state, for profit, investor group in direct competition with a community, publicly operated non-profit, safety-net hospital is disappointing.  Over the next few days, our staff and our volunteer board of trustees will work to gain an appreciation for the rationale behind the DCH conclusion and determine if any future opposition is appropriate.

Mathis said that the appeal process could take a while and become expensive.

"That's the message I think Crisp Regional needs to understand. We will fight vigorously and we will crush them," Mathis said, regarding a possible appeal. "There is no legitimate opposition to the Lee County Medical Center at this point."

"For them to appeal and say the citizens of Lee County and the areas surrounding Lee County don't deserve the healthcare option that citizens of Crisp County have, to me doesn't make any sense," Singletary remarked.

The CEO and President of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals Monty Veazey has been a strong opponent of the hospital from the start. He said he was shocked by the decision.

"I am perplexed in the fact that it was approved based on what the law says," explained Veazey.

Although Veazey said his party cannot appeal the decision, he believes Crisp Regional Medical Center can appeal the decision.

Phoebe also released a statement after the approval was announced:

Today's decision by the Department of Community Health is an important step in the Certificate of Need process, however, it is likely not the final step.  The CON opposition has the right to appeal the decision.  Throughout this process, Phoebe has abided by our voluntary consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, and we will continue to do so.  We will not comment on the merits of the application nor  be involved in any way in a potential appeal.

According to Mathis, a new hospital would give people more choices and lower healthcare costs in the region.

What happens next

By law, there is a 30-day window following the decision by the Department of Community Health for a party to appeal.

In the past, it has been common for parties to file appeals. From January 1, 2014 through September 6 of this year, the Department of Community Health Reviewed eight hospitals. Seven of those decisions were appealed.

Copyright 2017 WALB. All rights reserved.

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