CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - Memorial Health’s plans to build two freestanding ERs in Bryan County and Pooler have hit a snag. We first told you about the project a year ago—Memorial Health plans to build freestanding ERs equipped with staff and specialized equipment to help with emergencies.
But for now, those projects are halted after the state granted an appeal filed by competing healthcare networks.
Memorial Health spent more than $12 million on land to build two freestanding ERs—one in Bryan County and the other in Pooler, but both those lots remain untouched a year later.
While Memorial Health’s Certificate of Need was initially approved by the Department of Community Health in June, it was quickly appealed by St. Joseph’s/Candler, Effingham Hospital and Liberty Regional Medical Center.
According to appeal documents, those organizations feel they offer similar services within a 35-mile radius and the Department of Community Health has a standing rule against the kinds of facilities Memorial Health wants to build. The appeal was granted and the Certificate of Need was reversed for Memorial Health’s freestanding ERs.
Essentially the decision came down to a precedent set in 2012. That’s when other hospitals put in four applications requesting freestanding ERs in Georgia and all were denied without appeal. Though the agency initially granted Memorial Health’s applications because of the growing communities and aging populations, they say the general need analysis did not meet their standards.
Previous decisions say the hospital must prove that people in an area have limited access to emergency services. The Department of Community Health did not give a specific reason for giving Memorial Health an exception to this rule when they initially granted permission. The department eventually agreed that Memorial Health could not be allowed to build the new facilities without an update to that previous ruling.
St. Joseph’s/Candler leaders say they were grateful to have the decision reversed. Stating at the heart of their objection to Memorial’s plan is mostly about cost to patients. A statement read in part, “FSED’S (freestanding emergency department) are expensive for patients and employers who pay for healthcare. The majority of what FSEDs treat could be handled at a doctor’s office or an urgent care. But when that care is provided at an FSED, the patient is charged hospital prices. In short, it’s urgent care at hospital ED prices.”
St. Joseph’s/Candler went on to say " FSEDs are also a threat to the financial stability of smaller community hospitals located nearby who rely on emergency room volume to help sustain other vital services they offer to the community like inpatient care.”
Meanwhile Memorial Health filed an appeal on the decision. It’s unclear if the appeal will be heard though as the Department of Community Health has not set a date for a hearing. Memorial Health’s CEO Shayne George said this in a statement:
“We’re optimistic the state will ultimately agree with us on the importance of bringing emergency care to the families of Richmond Hill and Pooler. The Certificate of Need process in Georgia is slow and deliberate. We look forward to building the community’s first freestanding ERs and expect to know more about a timeline in the months ahead.”
You can read St. Joseph’/Candler Health System’s full responses to our questions below:
“Bryan County is really growing exponentially right and not only on this end, but the other end of the county too, the north end of the county so both ends are growing really fast,” said Carter Infinger, Chairman of the Bryan County Board of Commissioners.
Because of that growth, city leaders say they are seeing an increase in services needed. One of those being for healthcare. Both Memorial Health and St. Joseph’s/Candler are looking to build in the area.
While Memorial’s freestanding ER is on hold pending a ruling for their certificate of need, St. Joseph’s/Candler is currently constructing an Urgent Care across the street. Infinger says the area does have a need for more access and if they come it’s a win/win for the community.
“I feel like there is a need for them I mean the more medical facilities we can have here the better and I think it’s going to be, I think it’s going to benefit you know our residents to have medical facilities here and doctors and you know really we won’t have to go into Savannah to get care we can get it right here in our own county.”
Infinger says he is excited for what’s coming and the potential of what’s ahead and how it impacts residents in Bryan County.
As the project remains on hold, we will follow this story and give you the latest updates.