Congratulations, Columbia County. We’ve been CONned.
The Georgia Department of Community Health on Friday denied permission for Doctors Hospital and University Hospital to build freestanding emergency rooms in Columbia County.
While not entirely unexpected – the DCH has never allowed anyone in Georgia to build a freestanding emergency room – it still stinks. It means fast-growing Columbia County will continue to rely on long rides to the next county for emergency medical care.
It’s also bad news for outlying counties, such as Lincoln and McDuffie, that could have benefited from having an ER closer to them. Now their best hope will continue to be the fact that Gold Cross has a helicopter ambulance, or that Doctors and/or University prevail with their appeals of the rejection.
If the applications had been approved, Doctors would have purchased land adjacent to Marshall Square where they would have built a $9.8 million, 12-bed facility with a trauma room. University planned to build a $9.67 million, 18-bed facility with five trauma rooms at its existing Evans campus on North Belair Road (at what soon will have a direct connection to River Watch Parkway).
Instead, the DCH rejected the two hospitals’ separate requests for Certificates of Need to allow them to build the facilities. Columbia County gets exactly zip, thanks to the DCH. And it all begs the question: Why do we have to go to Atlanta for permission to build a medical facility in the first place?
It’s shouldn’t be a surprise that the initials for the certificates spell CON, because that’s what we’ve gotten. We’ve been conned out of allowing the free market and consumer demand to determine where and when to build medical facilities.
You don’t see that anywhere else. Just imagine if you had to receive state approval before you could build another restaurant in a community, or another gas station, or another grocery store.
“But,” the less-enlightened might say, “we’ve got tons of restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores! Maybe someone should decide how many is enough!”
“Someone” does: The investors. They put their money at risk and decide what to build, and where, and when. If they succeed, they make money. If they fail, they lose money. But in either case, it’s their money and how they spend it should be their decision.
But in the medical industry? Nope – the DCH gets to decide whether your community “needs” an MRI machine or an emergency facility. The defenders of this anti-free-market process claim that it’s to keep a community from being overloaded with more facilities than it needs, but so far the free market seems to do a pretty good job of that with everything else. What makes medical care so special that it gets to operate outside the free market?
Of course, it shouldn’t go without saying that there is just a hint of irony to this rejection. If you recall, just a few years ago the Medical College of Georgia (that was actually its name at the time) received DCH approval for a medical facility near Riverwood Plantation.
Almost immediately, MCG’s plans were delayed because of legal challenges – from University and Doctors hospitals.
With their restructuring, MCG has since abandoned its plan. That’s a real shame, because it eventually could have become a full-blown hospital closer to the center of the county and nearer those outlyng counties. And now, thanks to the DCH, we aren’t getting the facilities that University or Doctors wanted to build, either.
Enjoy your ambulance rides. At least the Gold Cross folks are friendly.