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Barrow judge says 'no' to new South Hall hospital
Northeast Georgia Medical Center to appeal permit ruling
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The chief executive of Northeast Georgia Medical Center said the hospital plans to appeal a Barrow County Superior Court judge’s ruling to deny a permit for a new hospital in South Hall County.

Jim Gardner, also the chief executive of Northeast Georgia Health Systems, said he was both surprised and disappointed by the ruling and promised the case would be appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Superior Court Judge Robert Adamson of Winder issued the ruling Monday in an appeal brought by Barrow Regional Medical Center. Adamson’s ruling reversed a decision by the Georgia Department of Community Health approving a new South Hall hospital for Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

"We are very disappointed and frankly, we disagree with the court’s ruling," Gardner told The Times.

"We have been upheld three times by the Department of Community Health, the hearing officer and the review board. We believe in their approval of our effort to bring much-needed services to this community, including life-saving emergency services."

Former Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers, who represented the Barrow hospital in appeals, hailed the ruling.

"I’m very pleased, and my client is pleased," Bowers said, adding he already was anticipating the Hall County hospital further appealing the decision.

"We are very, very excited," said Joe Clancy, chief executive of Barrow Regional Medical Center.

Unlike in previous stages in the case, Northeast Georgia Medical does not have an automatic right to appeal in the case. Under state law, it must file a petition for a discretionary appeal, essentially asking the appeals court to hear the case. If granted, a direct appeal of the case would be heard by a panel of appellate judges.

Gardner said the hospital’s timetable for the new hospital had allowed for the matter to go to the court of appeals, and he is hopeful that they will overturn the lower court’s decision.

"We are confident the Georgia Court of Appeals is going to hear our appeal and confirm (the Department of Community Health’s) original ruling," Gardner said.

In a Nov. 24 hearing in Winder, Bowers questioned the state’s decision to allow a change in the application.

The original petition was to transfer 100 beds from the Lanier Park campus of the medical center to the proposed new facility in Braselton. In April 2007, the medical center amended its application for a completely new facility. The Department of Community Health granted the certificate of need on April 27, 2007.

The health system plans to move the current Lanier Park capacity to its main campus on Spring Street when the North Patient Tower is completed next spring.

In his ruling, Adamson sided with Bowers’ argument regarding the change allowing 100 completely new beds.

"To not give complete and due attention to the addition of 100 beds is an abdication of the department’s responsibility to limit health care facilities to only those which are cost effective and not unnecessarily duplicative," Adamson wrote in his order.

Bowers also said the state used incomplete data in measuring the negative impact on Barrow Regional Medical Center.

Adamson also said any new analysis should take into consideration the changing economic situation.

"Those factors do illuminate the critical need for a thorough and complete analysis of all the relevant considerations by the department in view of what appears to the court to be a gross change in the scope of the project," he wrote.

The Northeast Georgia application has been approved repeatedly by the Department of Community Health. Barrow Regional filed an appeal with a hearing officer in December 2007 and with a review board in February. In both cases, Northeast Georgia’s application was upheld. Barrow’s lawsuit, filed in April on the last day of the appeals period, was the last legal avenue to prevent Northeast Georgia from moving forward with its plans.

Under Georgia law, medical facilities with a capital cost of $2.5 million or higher must apply for a certificate of need through the Georgia Department of Community Health. Where there are competing facilities, the impact of new facilities on existing ones is taken into consideration.