Wed, April 24, 2024

Hospital construction underway in Columbia County

A groundbreaking ten years in the making marked the official start of the building of a new hospital in Columbia County.

Dignitaries ranging from Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to Board of Regents Chancellor Sonny Purdue grabbed shovels at the site off Interstate 20 exit 190, the Gateway to Grovetown, to mark the occasion.

“We are so excited about this opportunity. And not only what’s happening today, but what’s going to happen in the future,” Kemp said. “I just want to congratulate and thank the entire WellStar team on this great achievement. “

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Ralph Turner, President of Wellstar MCG Health, said the facility will be high quality and state-of-the-art.

“A full service, acute care hospital, more than 250,000 square feet,100 adaptable and patient care beds, an emergency department planned to be a level two Trauma Center, surgical platform to include operating rooms, Cath labs, interventional radiology, and imaging labs,” he said.

In addition to the hospital, a 90,000-square-foot medical office building is under construction. It will provide space for primary care, women’s health, and other specialties.

Columbia County Commission Chairman, Doug Duncan said the idea of a hospital in the county started more than a decade ago.

“The exploratory committee was founded, or put together, in 2012 to determine the feasibility of a hospital in Columbia County, the RFP (Request for Proposals) for the hospital went out in 2013. The CON (Certificate of Need) was approved in November 2014. Of course, there was a legal challenge or two that we had to work through. But of course, here we are today,” he said.

In 2014, Georgia Regents Medical Center (GRMC), now Wellstar MCG Health, University Hospital, now Piedmont Augusta and Doctors Hospital filed CONs with the Georgia Department of Community Health, asking to build a hospital.

When GRMC’s proposal was selected, the University and Doctors appealed the decision. That kicked off a court battle. University dropped its appeal, but Doctors Hospital continued until, in 2021, the Georgia Supreme Court declined to hear the case, effectively upholding DCH’s initial ruling.

Hearings to collect recommendations on how to change the CON process were held statewide in 2023. The committee drew up recommendations for the process, and the legislature approved them during the just-ended 2024 legislative session.

House bill 1339 awaits the governor’s signature.

“We have a review process where we have to legally look at every single bill, make sure there’s not any constitutional issues,” Kemp explained to ABD. “So, we’ll do a thorough review on everything, including the CON legislation, which I’m very supportive of, but we’re going to still do the legal review.”

Among the changes in HB 1339 is allowing new hospitals to be built in counties with fewer than 50,000 residents, while requiring them to provide charity care, offer psychiatric services, and join the statewide trauma system.

“There are some great things in that bill, dealing with mental health, dealing with expanded maternity and neonatal or perinatal coverage for unborn children as well,” said Dr. Mark Newton, House District 127 Representative. “Rural hospitals are able to build in a much better way. So, I think 1339 is going to be a great bill and I look forward to the governor signing.”

Columbia County Chamber of Commerce President, Russell Lahodny told ABD the new hospital will also be a draw to attract businesses to come to the county.

“Obviously, the more you add services like this, the more attractive a county is,” he said. “This is one of the larger counties that didn’t have its own medical facility. I think we were very successful in attracting businesses to our area, but this is just one more arrow in the quiver.”

Crews have been clearing the site, preparing for the start of construction. The last step in the process to begin construction was taken late last year.

The county successfully closed on the $375 million bond to fund the project. The series 2003 A bonds total just over $279 million. There is also almost $57.5 million in series B bonds, which are the ones with the county’s backing. The county would have to provide the funds only if other entities involved in the construction default.

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