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Court of Appeals says Augusta University can build new hospital

by Valerie Dimond, Contributing Reporter | August 25, 2020
Business Affairs
The Columbia County Court House in Evans, Georgia
After a six-year court battle, Augusta University Medical Center (AUMC) was granted permission last week by the Georgia Court of Appeals to build the first hospital in Columbia County, the biggest county in the state without a hospital.

In 2014, three organizations — AUMC, Doctors, and University Hospital — had all applied for a certificate of need (CON) to build a new 100-bed hospital and AUMC won. Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) approved a state license to AUMC, but Doctors appealed the decision and lost. Doctors filed another lawsuit and the case went to the Georgia Supreme Court where it was sent back the Court of Appeals last December.

“As this decision is the fifth time the department’s award has been affirmed, we remain confident that this is the right decision for Columbia County and are hopeful that this confirmation of DCH’s original award to AUMC will allow the project to move forward without further delay,” AU Health System said in a statement.

AUMC’s plan to build the 100-bed hospital also comes with a pledge from the county to contribute 20% of the cost.

The court said AUMC has the best history of serving non-paying patients, was offering a teaching hospital and trauma center, and had a lower price per square foot, reports the Associated Press. Doctors estimated a cost of $140.7 million to build the hospital compared the $144.3 million AUMC estimates for a larger facility.

Meanwhile, in June, Doctors was granted a license to build the first free-standing ER in Georgia, reports wjbf.com, a project that AUMC is also looking to start. The 12,760 square foot facility, to be built in Evans, will have 12 beds and be open 24 hours a day with a full lab, radiology and telemedicine services.

AUMC isn’t happy about the news.

“AU Medical Center is very disappointed in this decision,” AUMC said in a statement. “The Department’s decision overlooked AUMC’s new hospital project in Columbia County, which will provide emergency room access to residents of west Columbia County and Evans. This hospital, which has been held up in appeal by Doctors Hospital for five years, was never mentioned as an alternative in the Department of Community Health’s decision to approve Doctors’ Freestanding ED project. In fact, the new 100-bed hospital was identified in a meeting last week with the Department of Community Health as an existing alternative to the proposed freestanding ED projects. In addition to AUMC’s new Columbia County hospital, AUMC believes the surrounding area deserves a freestanding ED in a location positioned to serve rural Georgia. The Doctors Hospital project is not positioned to serve the communities in need of true emergency department services.”

Rural Georgia hospitals are experiencing many difficulties serving patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, as most lack the critical care equipment and staff required to treat COVID-19 patients, including a severely limited number of hospital beds, ICU beds, or ventilators. Some have no ICUs at all.

In fact, Evans Memorial Hospital recently had a very sick COVID patient they couldn’t care for properly. After reaching out to 14 facilities, they finally found one to accept the transfer — two states and 500 miles away in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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