The system was granted a certificate of need from the state Department of Community Health last September for the 20,000-square-foot outpatient surgery center it hopes to include in its plans for the nearly 188,000-square-foot health park. Current plans also call for a fitness center, nature trails and preserved green space, a sleep center, women’s center, specialists, an urgent care center, an education and wellness center and nearly 1,000 parking spaces.
But Northside Hospital has challenged that certificate, and the appeal hearing before an administrative law judge is set for Aug. 8, Joe Brywczynski, WellStar senior vice president health parks administrator, said Thursday morning before about 35 attendees during a breakfast meeting of the WellStar Health Park East Cobb Advisory Committee. The committee is providing input and suggestions to the system for architectural and structural plans for the facility.
And although the state said in its public list of permits that have been denied that the system’s certificate was denied Monday for the surgery center, WellStar Director of Strategic Planning Caroline Aultman said it was only a “what if” decision by the judge to be used for the appeal hearing and has no bearing on the outcome of the appeal.
“This CON (that was approved) was filed stating that the ambulatory surgery center at the East Cobb Health Park would be an extension of WellStar Windy Hill Hospital and that ambulatory surgery rules did not apply to this filing,” Aultman said. “This is because WellStar is shifting outpatient operating rooms from WellStar Windy Hill Hospital to the East Cobb Health Park. Thus, there is not a net increase in the number of outpatient operating rooms in this geographic area. The state approved this CON application and agreed that the ambulatory surgery center rules did not apply.”
Before the original appeal hearing that was scheduled for April, the assigned hearing officer determined that he needed additional information about the project and issued a remand order requesting that the state give its stance as to how the application would have fared if the ambulatory surgery center rules applied, Aultman said.
“In this hypothetical scenario, the DCH stated that a CON application would have been denied,” Aultman said. “The hearing officer made it clear in his remand order that all current filings would remain intact and would not be impacted by this supplemental decision. The original approval from the DCH is still in effect.”
What is still not clear, however, is whether the system will go through the normal zoning process with the county Board of Commissioners or through the Hospital Authority. If WellStar goes through the Hospital Authority, it avoids measures such as commission stipulations and resident input that are allowed through the zoning process.
When Cobb Planning and Zoning Commission member Mike Terry posed the question to Brywczynski, saying, “It sounds as though you have already made up your minds,” Brywczynski stood by his claim that WellStar has not yet determined its avenue of permitting.
Brywczynski said the company is still on target for beginning construction in March 2012 and to serve its first clients in Aug. 2013. WellStar spokesman Keith Bowermaster said that the system has had several public input meetings, and that as people understand the potential plans for the development, they are more supportive of the complex. And even if the certificate is ultimately denied, Bowermaster said the system can still build the complex, but the 20,000 square feet under contention for the surgery center would have to be filled with something else. So no matter what, Bowermaster said, the complex will be built.
“Our meetings are becoming more and more positive,” Bowermaster said. “The (East Cobb Civic Association) meeting dispelled a lot of rumors and our public support has increased. We are a community asset, and work with our neighbors to make sure we are all happy. There are not too many opportunities where a group can comment on the layout and architectural design of a building that will be going up.”
Also in attendance Thursday were commissioners Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell, former Commissioner Thea Powell and Cobb Planning and Zoning Commission member Christi Trombetti.