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Court will hear South Hall hospital appeal

POSTED: January 30, 2009 11:55 p.m.

The Georgia Court of Appeals has agreed to hear an appeal from Northeast Georgia Health System, which is seeking to reverse a denial of its request to build a 100-bed hospital in South Hall.

Barrow Regional Medical Center in Winder has challenged NGHS’s certificate of need for the new hospital even though the Georgia Department of Community Health has approved the project.

In December, Superior Court Judge Robert Adamson ruled in favor of the Barrow hospital. NGHS officials appealed the ruling and have been waiting to hear whether the appeal would be heard.

Armando Basarrate, an attorney who represents NGHS on certificate of need cases, said the appeals court might hear the case within a few months.

“I think it’s reasonable to expect that by late fall, we should have a decision,” he said.

Tracy Vardeman, vice president of strategic planning for the health system, said officials were excited to learn that their application for an appeal had been accepted.

“We’re optimistic that we will prevail,” she said.

Basarrate said the Department of Community Health also applied for and was granted the right to appeal.

“Both cases will be heard together,” he said. “DCH takes the position, as we do, that the Superior
Superior Court erred in its decision.”

Judge Adamson agreed with Barrow Regional’s attorney, Michael Bowers, who contended that NGHS had improperly changed its application for the certificate of need.

Originally, NGHS had asked to transfer 100 beds from its Lanier Park campus to the proposed hospital in Braselton. But in April 2007, NGHS amended its application to ask for 100 additional beds it doesn’t now have.

The Lanier Park beds instead will be transferred to the medical center’s main campus in Gainesville when its new North Patient Tower opens in May.

The Department of Community Health readily accepted the amended application and did not find that a new hospital would pose a threat to Barrow Regional.

“It’s important to reinforce that the state has determined there is a need for (more) beds,” said Vardeman.

Basarrate believes DCH officials are the experts in such matters and said Adamson was wrong to overrule their decision.

“The Superior Court ignored the evidence and reached a decision that was unsupported by the facts of the law,” he said.

Basarrate said DCH’s administrative rules clearly allow for a hospital to amend its application. He has been handling certificate of need cases for NGHS for almost two decades, and he said he can’t recall a case making its way this high up in the court system.

“But it’s typical to go this far when you’re applying for a new hospital,” he said, noting that other hospitals feel more threatened by a new facility than if an existing hospital is merely adding a new wing or department.

Basarrate said this case could conceivably go as far as the Georgia Supreme Court. “But I think it’s unlikely, because they only take a very small number of cases,” he said.

Vardeman said NGHS officials are still hopeful that the new hospital will open as scheduled around 2012.

“We anticipated that this (litigation) would occur and built that into our timeline,” she said.



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