Doctors and University hospitals are seeking state permission to build a free-standing emergency department in Columbia County, the state’s largest county without one, officials said.
Doctors Hospital is proposing a $9.8 million, 12-bed facility with a room to handle trauma on North Belair Road across from Marshall Square, while University is proposing a $9.67 million plan for an 18-bed facility with five trauma rooms on its Evans campus off North Belair Road.
Because the applications are similar and were filed within 30 days of each other, the state has “joined” the applications, indicating it will decide the fate of both by Jan. 25.
Both sides concede it is likely the state will pick only one, if either, of the plans.
Unlike adding hospital beds, in which the state has a formula to calculate how many an area needs, there is no strict criterion and it will be up to regulators to decide whether there is a general need for the services, said Ed Burr, University’s vice president of legal affairs.
“It is theoretically possible they could find a general need for both facilities. Probably not,” he said. “They may find a general need for neither and deny them both.”
“I would be very shocked if it was both (approved),” Doctors CEO Doug Welch said. If that were the case, it would hinder the state’s ability to limit the number of the centers and they would spring up all over the Atlanta area, he said.
The hospitals said their emergency rooms are overflowing and that they have a compelling need for their free-standing expansion.
Welch said Doctors has seen “phenomenal growth” in ER patients over the past few years, seeing almost 50,000 last year, up 12 percent from the previous year.
“We’re out of space; we’re out of treatment rooms to run our emergency room efficiently,” he said. “It’s very difficult for us to expand here on campus, so let’s take it to where the people are.”
University is also limited by its downtown campus, and each of the four expansion scenarios it presented the state would be double to four times as expensive as the Evans option, Burr said.
“Our (emergency department) is just swamped,” he said. “We don’t have any way to expand it, realistically, cost-effectively.”
Both sides said the hospital that is not picked is likely to appeal, which Burr said could drag the process out a year.
Columbia County officials said Monday they know there could be a fight ahead.
“It’s so adversarial they’re going to go after it hammer and tongs,” Columbia County Commissioner Trey Allen said.
“We’ve already sent a letter to (the state) saying we’d support anybody,” commission Chairman Ron Cross said. “We need that. Doctors isn’t far away, but we need our own facility out here.”