Judge denies Dougherty Commission restraining order against LCMC

Judge denies Dougherty Commission restraining order against LCMC

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - A Dougherty County Commission restraining order against the proposed Lee County Medical Center has been denied.

That ruling happened Tuesday afternoon inside Judge Todd Markle's Fulton County courtroom.

The afternoon hearing in Fulton County Superior Court was to discuss Dougherty County's motion for a temporary restraining order on the Certificate of Need for the proposed Lee County Medical Center.

After more than an hour and a half of hearing the arguments, Markle said he didn't think any injunctive relief was necessary.

But this doesn't mean the fight is over. The Dougherty County Commission's lawsuit against the Department of Community Health is still ongoing.

The attorney for the commissioners will get to argue their case about whether or not the CON should have been given at a later date.

Robert Rozier is the attorney representing the Dougherty County Commission in the case.

Rozier began the hearing with similar arguments we've been hearing for some time now. He argued a hospital in Lee County will be detrimental for Dougherty County. He said it would hurt Dougherty County economically, saying the county will take away the patients from its only paying hospital. That hospital, Rozier argued, is the largest employer in the community.

Rozier went on to argue the rules the Department of Community Health has set forth for Certificates of Need for a hospital were not followed in this case. He said the court doesn't have to go by the department's decision when the department's decision was not consistent with the rule.

But that's an argument that will be decided at a later date.

Rozier also said the commissioners have the ability to stop the CON still because the CON hasn't been officially decided.

The attorney for the Department of Community Health, Forrest Pearce, argued that the decision has been made. He said it was made final after Crisp Regional withdrew from the appeal.

Pearce also argued the department followed its CON guidelines. He explained to the judge how the CON works, how the appeal process works and said it was clear Dougherty County had no standing to appeal even though they kept trying to. He argued the general assembly put a CON process together to ensure only certain parties could have standing.

The judge did ask the attorneys about the restraining order, saying it did not seem like it would impact anything because Lee County was developing the land.

Pearce said it would just push back the hospital process if the judge granted the restraining order and would set a negative precedent for cases to come. He also argued Dougherty County faces no immediate and certain harm if the CON remains.

Lee County commissioner Billy Mathis was inside the courtroom during the hearing. He said he is happy with the judge's ruling and continues his stance that Dougherty County will not win the fight.

"There will be another hearing, but pretty much today kind of lets you know where everything else is going. Like we said from the very beginning, Dougherty County has no business in this argument and every court and every judge so far has agreed with us," explained Mathis.

Mathis also said the land around the hospital is an area where Lee County will be developing. He said it is an area of development Dougherty County could benefit from as well.

"We're just really excited about that development which will bring a lot of commercial growth to the area, more jobs. All the things we've been trying to get across to Dougherty County. We're going to provide jobs and we're going to provide needed income and revenue to the area and they know that. They know if they just get on board with us we can help grow the area and that's what we still want to do," said Mathis.

Dougherty County Attorney Spencer Lee was also in the hearing. WALB News 10 could not get in touch with him after the hearing. When we reached out to the public information officer for the county, she said they had no comment.

No date has been set for the attorneys to argue the full case. However, the Fulton County courthouse has a busy schedule. Attorneys said they believe it could be several months before this case is heard

In November 2017, the Georgia Department of Community Health granted the proposed medical center a Certificate of Need.

Crisp Regional Medical Center, the Dougherty County Commission, and Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals appealed the approval. In March 2018, a CON Appeal Panel denied the requests by the Dougherty County Commission and the GACH, saying the two parties don't have a right to an appeal. A hearing was set for April 30 regarding Crisp Regional's appeal, however, the hospital withdrew its opposition to the proposed medical center on April 20.

On April 18, the Dougherty County Commission filed a lawsuit in Fulton County against the Georgia Department of Community Health to halt all work on the proposed Lee County Medical Center.

Dougherty County commissioners said the DCH did not follow guidelines in approving a CON for the Lee County Medical Center and filed a lawsuit against the body.

WALB News 10 spoke with Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas about the lawsuit. He said the move to protect Dougherty County citizens.

"This is a lawsuit for the benefit of the Dougherty County taxpayers," said Cohilas. "The lawsuit itself will determine whether or not a Certificate of Need should be granted. So this could impact whether or not a certificate is actually granted."

Dougherty County Commissioner Lamar Hudgins said he wants his constituents in his district to know he is against the commission's lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Community Health and has been against fighting the new hospital the whole time.

"I did not feel it was any of our business what Lee County did. It's a pretty major event to be meddling in the business of another county. It's not something we need to do," said Hudgins.

After the hearing, the judge will decide if he needs to put a hold on the department issuing the CON until the arguments can be fully introduced to the court.

WALB reached out to Dougherty County after the decision, a spokesperson for the county responded and said that they have no comment.

You can view a copy of the lawsuit filed by the Dougherty County Commission here

'We're going to build a hospital'

Lee County leaders said despite Dougherty County's lawsuit, they're moving forward with the plans for the proposed hospital.

"We have a Certificate of Need to build a hospital. Dougherty County's recent action in filing a lawsuit is simply a nuisance to us. We're going to build a hospital," said Lee County Commissioner Billy Mathis.

Lee County Commissioners said they've received plenty of feedback from the public since news of the lawsuit broke.

"Dougherty County citizens are overwhelmingly in favor of a choice in health care," said Mathis.

Despite the lawsuit and the appeals, Mathis said Lee County is still willing to sit down and talk and work with Dougherty County.

"We are happy to work hand in hand with anyone on the Dougherty County Commission that will work with us to grow this community," said Mathis.

About the Lee Co. Medical Center

What was once the site of the Grand Island Golf Club could soon be home to another option of healthcare in Southwest Georgia.

Lee County leaders are hoping to turn the golf course into a medical and recreation complex. 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, and a restaurant.

MORE: Lee Co. Medical Center CEO speaks of his past, visions for future hospital

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. Leaders also believe the hospital will create more than 350 jobs, which is double the amount stated in the initial letter of intent to file for a CON.

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