Augusta Business Daily

Tue, November 28, 2023

Financing for the Columbia County hospital takes a major step forward

Members of the Columbia County Hospital Authority have approved the funding mechanism for the 100-bed hospital planned for the Grovetown area.

Earlier this year, the Columbia County Commission and the authority finalized a contract to issue up to $375 million in bonds to pay for construction. On Oct.19, authority members unanimously approved a supplemental resolution for the bonds.

“So, the supplemental resolution you’ve got in front of you, it’s easy to look at the red line, the final amounts for the series A bonds, I keep saying bonds, but they are technically certificates, but in the municipal bond world, they’re called bonds, $279,205,000 of the series 2003 A certificates and $57,405,000 of the series B certificates. The B certificates are the ones that have the county’s backing,” explained Attorney Jon Pannell.

Under Georgia law, the county must back 20% of the cost of the construction. However, the county would have to provide the funds only if other entities involved in the construction default.

“So, by passing this resolution today, the authority was able to make that an official issuance of certificates to back that 20% and to approve with the hospital’s moving forward with their certificates to go ahead and begin funding the hospital,” said Trey Allen, a former county commissioner who is chairman of the hospital authority.

Bank of America is the lead underwriter for the bonds, which are set for closing on Nov. 2.

“So, two weeks from now, as a part of what you’re authorizing, you’re also authorizing the chairman to sign a bond purchase agreement, which is a very detailed document. But that locks in the issuance of certificates,” explained Pannell. “It locks in all the rates and the maturities, it locks in the obligation for the authority to issue the certificates on behalf of Wellstar.”

This is the culmination of a fight to build the hospital that began in 2014. That’s when Augusta University Medical Center (then called Georgia Regents Medical Center), University Hospital, and Doctors Hospital all filed Certificates of Need (CON) with the Georgia Department of Community Health, seeking approval to build a hospital in Columbia County.

GRMC’s CON was approved, but the University Hospital and Doctors Hospital both appealed the decision. University Hospital ultimately dropped its appeal, but Doctors Hospital continued until 2021, when the Georgia Supreme Court declined to hear the case, effectively upholding DCH’s initial ruling.

“Well, this is huge for us,” said county manager, Scott Johnson. “It’s the next step and it’s getting our own hospital in Columbia County. So, we’re really excited about this. The process has been very smooth so far, there are a lot of moving pieces and this was another one of those moving pieces. But this is great because this means, we’re going to get a hospital.”

One of those “moving pieces” is the merger of Augusta University Health System and Marietta-based Wellstar Health System. That was finalized in August 2023.

“I think the merger with Wellstar was actually a really good thing,” said Johnson. “I think the county was concerned about AU and the operations at AU. Although they’ve been good partners for years with us, you know, their financials were what they were and then merging with Wellstar gave us a little bit of comfort in the deal and I think is going to end up providing a good hospital for Columbia County.”

The 100-bed, 260,000-square-foot hospital will include an emergency department, trauma center, intensive care rooms, and six operating rooms.

It is under construction at Exit 190 off Interstate 20.

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