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Barrow medical center's lawsuit says hospital didn’t follow rules

POSTED: April 6, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Barrow Regional Medical Center in Winder has made a last-ditch effort to appeal the approval of Northeast Georgia Health System’s planned hospital in Braselton.

Joe Clancy, CEO of Barrow Regional, said Monday that the hospital had filed a lawsuit stemming from the Georgia Department of Community Health’s approval of Northeast Georgia’s 100-bed hospital in South Hall.

Barrow Regional appealed in December to a hearing officer, who upheld the Department of Community Health’s decision to award the certificate of need. Then Barrow took the matter to a review board, which upheld the hearing officer’s decision on Feb. 21.

The suit is Barrow’s last avenue of appeal. A Barrow County Superior Court judge will hear arguments and make a decision. Hearing dates have not been set.

Barrow Regional’s chief nursing officer, Linda Easterly, said Tuesday that Northeast Georgia did not follow the certifcate of need process. She called it a "fluke" that the application was approved by the state, and said it could set a precedent for future applications.

The health system originally applied for replacement beds, meaning beds that were already allotted to the existing medical center in Gainesville but instead would be used in Braselton. Easterly said Northeast Georgia then changed the application to new beds, meaning the system would be allowed to treat more patients.

"It still goes back to the premise that the (certificate of need) process wasn’t adhered to in the beginning," Easterly said. "No other hospital had a problem with that (replacement beds), and then all of a sudden it became a new facility."

Officials from Northeast Georgia Health System were not available for comment Tuesday.

Easterly said the suit has nothing to do with competition from the new hospital. "Barrow is not against Northeast Georgia growing. We know there is need for more medical facilities for the local area, and there are plenty of physician and hospital needs," Easterly said.

Northeast Georgia spokeswoman Melissa Tymchuk has said that the new hospital will not be a threat to Barrow Regional.

"We feel like the area is growing so much that there will be enough patients for us both," Tymchuk said.

The hospital, which will include an emergency room, will not open until Thompson Mill Road (Ga. 347) is realigned in 2011-12. Construction has not begun due to the appeals, Tymchuk has said.

However, construction is under way on Medical Plaza I, part of Northeast Georgia’s River Place Braselton medical campus. The plaza is scheduled to open in the fall and will house 40 to 50 physicians. The plaza also will have internal medicine, specialties, urgent care, planning for radiation therapy and a community education room.

Barrow Regional does not have any new facilities on the drawing board at this time, but renovations to the hospital on Ga. 53 in Winder are planned.

"And as the population is growing, we are anxiously looking at how we’re going to expand our services," Easterly said.



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