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Court clears way for South Hall hospital
Barrow judges decision reversed in medical center case
The current Medical Plaza 1 Building in Braselton. - photo by For The Times

The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Northeast Georgia Medical Center can build a new South Hall hospital in Braselton, clearing the way for construction of a facility that could serve 100 acute care patients and employ nearly 600 people.

The court’s decision to reinstate state certification needed to build the facility reversed a December 2008 ruling by Barrow County Superior Court Judge Robert Adamson, who ruled in favor of Barrow Regional Medical Center when that hospital filed suit to prevent the new facility from being built.

Officials with the Winder hospital argued that the Georgia Department of Community Health did not follow the proper procedures in granting Northeast Georgia Medical Center a “certificate of need” required to build a new 100-bed hospital.

In an opinion written by Appeals Court Judge A. Harris Adams with concurrence from Judges G. Alan Blackburn and Sara Doyle, the panel said the Department of Community Health “had a rational basis for granting NGMC’s application for a certificate of need for the proposed South Hall hospital.”

Northeast Georgia Health System CEO Jim Gardner said Tuesday that officials were confident enough that the courts would rule in their favor that they have proceeded with plans for Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton. The projected opening date is 2014.

“We are extremely pleased that the Georgia Court of Appeals has issued this decision,” Gardner said. “This appellate ruling further reinforces the original decision made by the Georgia Department of Community Health in May 2007 and the two subsequent rulings which upheld that decision. We are committed to developing a high-quality hospital consistent with the services already provided at Medical Plaza 1 at River Place, the cornerstone of the future Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton.”

Josh Archer, an associate of attorney Michael Bowers, who represents Barrow County Medical Center, said Bowers would be meeting with hospital officials to go over the court’s decision and consider their options. The Winder hospital could ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider or ask the Georgia Supreme Court to hear the case.

Barrow County Medical Center CEO Blake Watts did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

Armando Basarrate, the attorney who successfully represented Northeast Georgia Medical Center in the appeal, called Tuesday’s decision “solid and well-reasoned.”

“I would be very surprised if the Supreme Court would overturn it or even accept an appeal,” Basarrate said.

Officials with the Winder hospital sued because they believed the new medical facility would take patients away from their 56-bed site on Ga. 53, located about 11 miles from the proposed site of the new hospital.

Adamson sided with Barrow Regional Medical Center, writing that the Department of Community Health did not fully consider whether 100 new beds in the area would be cost effective and not “unnecessarily duplicative” of health care services for the region.

The certificate of need was first issued in May 2007, when Northeast Georgia Medical Center stated its intentions to move 100 acute-care beds from the Lanier Park campus to the new South Hall hospital. The application was later revised for 100 new beds. A hearing officer and review board both upheld the granting of the certificate when it was appealed by the Winder hospital.

After Adamson’s ruling, Northeast Georgia Medical Center asked the Georgia Court of Appeals hear the case. The Court of Appeals in January 2009 agreed to take up the matter and briefs were filed by both sides in August.

Tracy Vardeman, vice president of strategic planning for Northeast Georgia Health System, said plans call for a 264,000-square-foot hospital that will employ 582 people in its first year of operations.

Vardeman said hospital officials also expect an expansion of physician community offices and additional jobs those offices would bring to the area.

Gardner said Tuesday’s decision was more than just a legal victory for the hospital.

“As important as this is for Northeast Georgia Health System, this is an important day for our community,” Gardner said. “This is about all of the residents of Northeast Georgia having continued access to high-quality health care as we continue to see growth. This is not a win for Northeast Georgia Medical Center; it’s a win for all of Northeast Georgia.”