In a 41-page document filed Sept. 1 with Georgia Department of Community Health, WellStar officials dispute their competitor’s claim that they can relocate without obtaining a Certificate of Need.
Northside executives, citing a 2008 law, said they don’t have to go through the CON process because they plan to relocate within a three-mile radius and not expand health services. But WellStar believes Northside has failed to provide proper documentation to obtain the exemption.
“Instead of going through the more rigorous Certificate of Need application process, Northside Cherokee instead filed a Determination request based on a relocation exemption from CON,” WellStar spokesman Keith Bowermaster said. “WellStar believes that Northside Hospital-Cherokee has failed to provide sufficient information and documentation to support its request for an exemption.”
Northside in early August filed a letter of determination with the State Department of Community Health to replace its current, 84-bed facility on Hospital Road with a new facility on a 100-acre tract behind Canton Marketplace. The health care system plans to build other medical facilities on the site.
Determination requests are frequently filed when a health care provider “wants to ensure that an action or service it is contemplating is exempt from Certificate of Need review,” DCH spokesperson Pam Keene said.
Requests received by the department are typically answered within 60 to 90 days after their submittals.
If the letter is approved, the hospital would be exempt from obtaining a Certificate of Need review.
Northside said in a press release WellStar’s opposition is unfounded as a state law passed in 2008 allows hospitals to relocate within a three-mile radius without requiring a Certificate of Need review or approval if the new hospital would not offer any new or expanded health services.
“While the relocated hospital will be state-of-the-art, larger, and be located on a campus with ample room for further expansion as the community’s needs grow, the hospital service offerings will not change in connection with the relocation,” Northside spokesman Russ Davis said in a press release. “The move by WellStar clearly is based on its concern that the new Northside Hospital-Cherokee campus will be well-received by the community, leading more community residents to obtain health care services locally.”
Along with the new 84-bed hospital, the campus will include a women’s center, a multi-specialty medical office building and cancer center, a parking deck with 600 spaces and a 300-space surface parking lot.
The project is expected to cost about $250 million. The hospital is expected to open by March 2015.
The new location will allow for more space to adequately care for patients, and the new facility will be 300,000 square feet, twice the size than its 150,000 square-foot facility.
Northside Hospital-Cherokee CEO Billy Hayes also criticized WellStar’s opposition.
“We will vigorously defend against the opposition on this project to make this vision a reality for the residents of Cherokee County,” he added.
Keene said the department received WellStar’s letter of opposition on Sept. 1 and the department will consider the letter in its deliberations on whether Northside will be exempt from obtaining a Certificate of Need.
But Northside sparked its own firestorm last year when it formally challenged the CON WellStar received from the DCH last September for its proposed $80 million, four-story health park at Providence and Roswell roads in east Cobb. That spawned a series of appeal hearings and threatened to delay WellStar’s plans for that health park.
Still, support for Northside’s plans is coming from both the state and local level. Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers said Northside is an asset to Cherokee and praised its continuing investment in the county.
County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens said WellStar’s opposition “really wasn’t a surprise.”
“We’ll certainly stand behind Northside’s plans because they are critical for the county,” Ahrens said.
Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood said he was surprised by WellStar’s action.
Hobgood said he believed WellStar’s opposition letter will slow down the process, but added he believed the new hospital will be built.
“We’ve been fortunate to have Northside in our community,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the expansion.”
— MDJ Business Editor Katy Ruth Camp contributed to this report.