Depending on how you look at it, Memorial Health University Medical Center’s application for a certificate of need to build a freestanding emergency room in Richmond Hill has either got a new lease on life, or the appeals process hasn’t been finished yet.
In either case, the hospitals involved in the case will get another hearing after the Georgia Department of Community Health reversed a decision to pull Memorial’s certificate of need, which followed appeals by local hospitals led by St. Joseph’s/Candler, according to the DCH website.
A date for the new hearing was not immediately available. The DCH report said the commissioner’s reversal, apparently made in late March, sends Memorial’s case back to the DCH “to resume proceedings before a hearing officer consistent with the CON Administrative Hearing Process.”
The state granted Memorial the CON in June 2020 to build freestanding ERs in Richmond Hill off Port Royal Road and in Pooler.
An appeal by St. Joseph’s/ Candler’s, Liberty Regional Medical Center and Effingham Hospital followed, and led to the hearing in January in which a hearing officer reversed the state’s awarding of the CON. For St. Joseph’s/Candler, the decision merely means the appeals process is still in play. “The HCA Memorial CON is still under appeal,” said St. Joseph’s/ Candler spokesman Scott Larson in an email. “The most recent news was a ruling by the DCH Commissioner directing the CON Appeal Panel Hearing Officer to conduct a formal hearing to consider witness testimony and exhibits relevant to the legal conclusions in the Hearing Officer’s earlier ruling that the projects failed to meet the applicable standards for approval. At the appropriate time, we are ready to take the next step in the appeals process.”
An email from Memorial said “we’re pleased the Commissioner of Georgia Department of Community Health has sent the case back to the hearing officer for a full and fair hearing. The Certificate of Need process in Georgia is slow and deliberate but we’re optimistic the state will ultimately approve our two ERs (Richmond Hill and Pooler).”
St. Joseph’s/Candler, which recently broke ground on a $4 million, 10,000 square foot urgent care facility on Highway 144 near the proposed freestanding ER, and other opponents say such facilities charge emergency room prices without providing that level of care, driving up the cost of services.
They also claim the freestanding ERs will hurt local rural hospitals in the area by attracting patients who would otherwise use their services.
At the groundbreaking for the urgent care, which is expected to be open in September, St. Joseph’s/ Candler CEO and President Paul Hinchey said such urgent cares are “important because they can handle most medical surprises and are far more affordable than Emergency Departments.”
St. Joseph’s officials say urgent cares can handle up to 80 percent of “medical surprises,” and at a lower cost.
“The cost is far less than an emergency department visit, usually around the price a patient would pay at a primary care doctor. A hospital emergency room is typically 10- to 20-times higher,” the hospital said in a press release at the time of the groundbreaking.
Meanwhile, Dr. Jay Goldstein, the medical director of the emergency department at Memorial Health University Medical Center, is responsible for making the health care aspect of the facilities in Richmond Hill and Pooler a reality if the state approves the certificate of need.
He said the proposed 12,000 square foot facility, will include 12 beds and have 32 staff members, including board certified emergency room physicians and nurses.
He said the freestanding ER will operate the same way as a hospital emergency room, including treating all who need help regardless of ability to pay.
“It covers the gamut of everything performed in a normal emergency department, the only difference is it’s not attached to a hospital,” Goldstein said. He said the freestanding ER will include everything from the ability to do CAT scans or ultrasounds and X-rays and be able to treat patients who have “higher level of care needs,” than that found in urgent care facilities, and listed potential patients as anyone who suffers a potential heart attack or stroke or accident victims with head injuries or abdominal pains.
“Pretty much anything and everything that can be done in an emergency department, that’s the goal here,” Goldstein said. “Instead of having to drive for an hour for emergency care, it’ll be right here in Richmond Hill. Getting a higher level of care closer can make a big difference. I think that’s a great thing for the community.”
He added: “The quicker we can institute life saving measures instances such as trauma, stroke and cardiac events, the higher the chances of survival and having better quality of life,” Goldstein said. “So, for us in the medical community, the quicker we can care for the patient, the better it is for the patient and the better the outcome.”
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