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Memorial’s ER plans hit roadblock
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Memorial Health University Medical Center’s plan to build a freestanding emergency room in Richmond Hill has hit a roadblock in the form of other area hospitals.

An appeal by St. Joseph’s/ Candler, Effingham Hospital and Liberty Regional Medical Center led the state Department of Community Health to reverse it’s awarding of a certificate of need to Memorial Health.

That certificate of need was issued in June 2020, and allowed Memorial to move ahead on freestanding ER projects here and in Pooler. In the appeal, the hospitals said the state went against its own rule, which basically requires hospitals prove residents in an area have limited access to emergency services.

The decision was reversed in January, according to the DCH website.

Similar certificate of need approvals for other freestanding ERs in Georgia have also been reversed, according to the DCH certificate of need tracker.

The measure doesn’t mean Memorial is abandoning its plan to build the ER here, according to a brief statement to media from Memorial Health CEO Shayne George.

“We’re optimistic the state will ultimately agree with us on the importance of bringing emergency care to the families of Richmond Hill and Pooler,” George said. “The Certificate of Need process in Georgia is slow and deliberate. We look forward to building the community’s first freestanding ERs and expect to know more about a timeline in the months ahead.”

In a lengthy written response to questions first posed by a WTOC reporter and on Tuesday shared by St. Joseph’s/ Candler spokesman Scott Bryant with the Bryan County News, hospital officials said opponents of the ER are grateful for the reversal.

The hospital’s response essentially claims such facilities charge patients emergency room prices without providing that level of care, which they say drives up the cost for other patients. They also claim the ER will hurt local rural hospitals by attracting patients who would otherwise use their services.

That statement urges residents, including supporters of the proposed ER, to educate themselves on freestanding emergency rooms.

St. Joseph’s/Candler is building an urgent care center near the site of the proposed ER, and eventually plans to build a campus similar to one in Pooler. 

A brief bit of local background:

Memorial, owned by HCA Healthcare, spent an estimated $9 million to buy about 436 acres of what was then county land off Port Royal and Rabbit Hill roads in January, 2020.

The hospital then announced plans to build a freestanding ER here, along with another one in Pooler.

Memorial later requested the site be annexed into Richmond Hill, a measure which was approved in a 3-1 vote by city council members in October 2020.

In general, Richmond Hill officials have welcomed the proposed ER, and former councilman Mark Ott was the lone vote against the annexation and has been critical of Memorial’s plans from the outset.

Ott, grilled George at length and brought up past HCA fines by federal regulators during a city council meeting in August 2020.

He was lauded by some for his actions, but at the September meeting a “letter of concern” read by Richmond Hill Bryan County Chamber of Commerce CEO Kathryn Johnson on behalf of the Chamber’s board of directors blasted the nature of the questioning directed against George and called it slanderous – without naming the name of the questioner.

Editor’s note: Look for more on this story in an upcoming issue.

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