Hospital hearing denied
The long-awaited hearing that Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority board members, local governments and many citizens wanted before the state Department of Community Health is not going to happen, according to one local official.
Instead, a “hearing officer” will look over the almost eight full pages of appeal and supporting documentation that opposes Piedmont Mountainside Hospital’s plans to operate a freestanding emergency room at the closed-down North Georgia Medical Center rather narrowly, said authority chairman Travis Crouch.
“The only thing the hearing officer is going to consider is whether the appeal was done properly and the evidence was evaluated properly,” he said last week. “We’re not going to be able to argue about insurance or economic impact or any of that stuff.”
Crouch, who is also the Post 2 county commissioner, was asked what would happen if it was determined the appeal had been filed properly.
“It’s not a question of whether the appeal was filed properly,” he said. “The only thing the hearing officer says he’ll rule on is: 1) the cost of the (refurbishing project to get the emergency department going) under that threshold of $2.878 million; and 2) he is thinking about ruling on whether this new precedent being set could actually be licensed.”
The new precedent is the freestanding emergency department Piedmont Mountainside has planned – scheduled to open Nov. 1 – which as the appeal points out, has been rejected by the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee task force report of Gov. Nathan Deal released last July.
“But (the hearing officer) doesn’t think he can rule on that (precedent),” Crouch said of the conference call. “It’s just matters of procedure and law. So all he’s really going to rule on is – is the project going to cost more than the threshold or not? If Piedmont or SunLink have been provided any figures, we have asked for them. I don’t know that we have a lot of hope, really, based on what I heard in the conference call.
‘He threw (them) out’
“All our other arguments he threw out. He said, ‘I can’t rule on that,’ ‘I can’t rule on that,’ ‘I can’t rule on that’ and ‘I can’t rule on that.’ It’s kind of like the legal appeal of a court case: was proper procedure followed? That’s all he’s really going to (rule on).”
The “threshold” Piedmont Mountainside has to stay under for refurbishing North Georgia Medical is $2.878 million to avoid Community Health reviewing the valued certificate of need for the Ellijay hospital, according to Crouch. If Piedmont Mountainside does not open any overnight-stay hospital beds in North Georgia Medical by next May, the certificate of need will lapse and local officials said it will be almost impossible for the county to obtain a new one for a future new hospital, or to refurbish and reopen the one now closed.
The threshold amount is indexed each year for inflation in July. Jeremy Arieh, deputy director of communications and legislative affairs with Community Health, told the Times-Courier he checked with the agency’s Office of Health Planning and found the new certificate of need threshold is $2.903 million.
Arieh did not say if the old or new threshold will apply since Piedmont Mountainside filed its letter of determination to open the emergency department at North Georgia Medical earlier this year.
A representative of Piedmont Health Care in Atlanta preferred not to comment for this story.