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Northeast Georgia Health System says Barrow hospital's lawsuit has no merit

POSTED: April 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Northeast Georgia Health System officials have denied allegations that they did not follow Georgia’s certificate-of-need rules when applying to build a new hospital in Braselton.

Last week, Barrow Regional Medical Center in Winder filed a lawsuit to block the Gainesville hospital from building a 100-bed facility in South Hall.

The suit claims that the Georgia Department of Community Health should deny approval of the new hospital because Northeast Georgia originally asked for replacement beds (transferring some of the system’s total patient capacity from the Gainesville hospital), then changed its application to request new beds.

No one with Northeast Georgia Health System would speak on record with The Times Monday. But spokeswoman Cathy Bowers issued a prepared statement asserting that there was nothing unusual about the health system’s actions.

"(Certificate of need) applications are amended routinely. In fact, the ... rules anticipate and expressly allow for this type of amendment," the statement said.

In the e-mail, hospital management also pointed out that the application has been repeatedly approved by Community Health officials. Barrow Regional filed an appeal with a hearing officer in December and with a review board in February. In both cases, Northeast Georgia’s application was upheld. Barrow’s lawsuit, filed on the last day of the appeals period, was the only remaining legal avenue to prevent Northeast Georgia from moving forward with its plans. The lawsuit will be heard in Barrow County Superior Court, but no hearing date has been set.

The statement from Northeast Georgia implies that Barrow’s argument is based merely on semantics, and that it makes no difference whether the health system takes allotted beds from the Gainesville hospital or creates new ones.

"The original application was for a 100-bed acute-care hospital with 24/7 emergency-room services," the statement said, "and the amended and approved application was for the same: a 100-bed acute-care hospital with 24/7 emergency services."

Northeast Georgia officials have not explained why, if the goal of the new Braselton hospital is to serve the needs of the area’s growing population, they didn’t ask for new beds in the first place instead of initially applying for replacement beds.

But as far as Community Health is concerned, it doesn’t matter. Dena Brummer, spokeswoman for the state agency, said applicants do have the right to change their minds.

"The (certificate of need) rules provide for the amendment of an application, and it is fairly routine," she said.



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