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Augusta hospitals critique bids

Posted: October 4, 2014 - 11:07pm

ATLANTA — Consultants for three Augusta hospitals took turns Monday bashing each other’s proposals for a Co­lumbia County hospital in front of two state officials who will have to decide among them.

Criticisms included locations, cost estimates, staffing and even sincerity.

Each side had just 10 minutes to raise verbal objections against the applications submitted to the Georgia Depart­ment of Community Health. State law requires agency approval to build new facilities as part of a policy designed to minimize duplication of costly medical resources.

The department has until Nov. 26 to decide among Doctors Hospital, University Hospital or Georgia Regents Medical Center. Or it could deny all of them.

The “opposition meeting” was a chance for competitors to voice concerns that are also reflected in written documents on file at the department. Representatives of each hospital jotted down each perceived shortcoming, and they all have until Oct. 17 to amend their applications to address them.

Doctors Hospital representative Steve Ecenia, a Talla­has­see, Fla., lawyer, blasted University by predicting that it would fall far below its projected patient load and have financial problems because Columbia County residents already prefer Doctors Hospital. “In this instance, they have voted with their feet for Doctors,” he said.

In its filing, Doctors Hos­pi­tal also opposed a Univer­sity plan to forgo its tax-exempt status and pay real estate taxes that could be used to help the county meet its required 20 percent share of the cost of construction needed to secure an exception to the need standards normally applied by the state for a new hospital application.

It is clear from reading the notes of the committee that helped create the exception that it intended for counties to have “skin in the game,” Doctors Hospital said in its application.

Robert Threlkeld, an At­lan­ta attorney representing Georgia Regents, said Univer­sity didn’t substantiate equipment costs, omitted demolition costs and underestimated the number of nurses it will need. Plus, he said, University is proposing to offer treatment for complex conditions that it doesn’t address in its Augusta facility, adding that only a teaching hospital has the needed sophistication.

“We think that is a great distinguishing feature,” he said. “Only Georgia Regents can do that.”

Ecenia found plenty to criticize about Georgia Regents. He argued that the application shouldn’t get special treatment because of research and the expectation that the proposed location off Interstate 20 will make it easier to attract patients. He noted that nearly 85 percent of the patients projected to use the hospital will be residents in Columbia and Richmond counties.

Ecenia added that Geor­gia Regents could have applied any time under the teaching and trauma exceptions but chose to put in this application only because its competitors were.“There is all this evidence of a defensive move, not an effort to build a real hospital,” he said.

On behalf of University McDuffie County Regional Medical Center, consultant Lawrence Myers said Geor­gia Regents’ construction costs are unreasonable, that it will lose money in its first two years and that it can do its teaching at plenty of other hospitals around the state. He said its proposed site on I-20 would draw so many patients away from University’s McDuffie County facility that it would damage the financial strength of the existing hospital.

Georgia Regents recently changed its construction cost estimate to $148,605,346 to bring it in line with the costs of the others bids at around $150 million.

When the Doctors’ application came under the microscope, only Georgia Regents weighed in. Consultant Kathy Platt said it has underestimated the number of nurses needed, that it would be unable to offer pediatrics, and that it plans to locate near wealthy neighborhoods instead of where growth and unmet, rural demand is in the county.

“We’re the only applicant that addresses rural access,” she said.

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