Columbia County is dodging the decision… for now

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Columbia County is dodging the decision… for now

While the leadership decisions of Dr. Ricardo Azziz have certainly put MCG/GRU in a white hot spotlight of negativity unlike one we have seen in quite a while, allow me to remind you kind readers that all of our local major medical institutions have had internal changes/meltdowns/con jobs that have put them all on the public poop list pretty hard at one time or another.

The departure of the Sisters of Corondelet in the operation of what was then St. Joseph’s Hospital and all of what that meant to life-long staffers there comes to mind, as well as the massive bait and switch scheduling controversy with a few hundred nurses at University Hospital about 20 years ago.

I remember the University controversy quite well because the big cheese over there at the time, Don Bray, did not like what I had to say about it on the afternoon radio show. As a matter of fact, he drove out to meet with my general manager to see what could be done about shutting me up and, to his credit, my boss told Bray that unless I had my facts wrong (and I didn’t), that he wasn’t about to “reign him (me) in.”

University had another nasty few months in the news a few years after that when word leaked out that they were parting ways with a few dozen physicians who did not want to go quietly. Doctor’s Hospital has not been a stranger to such occurrences over the years, with name changes, wholesale personnel turnover and even the tragic murder of a popular and respected physician in their own parking lot.

So as the community outrage over the MCG/GRU consolidation and name change continues to make Dr. Azziz the single most disliked local human being on the free side of prison bars, there are concrete examples that such controversy and the stink that comes with it does and will eventually fade.

But right now, that anti-Azziz sentiment is strong, and it is playing a very real part in delaying a major decision on a huge new medical facility set to be located in the CSRA’s fastest-growing county.

Spirit copy deadlines force me to go out on a limb here with the prediction that, in about 10 minutes, the 6 p.m. meeting of the Columbia County Commission will begin with word that they will make no decision for now as to which of the three proposals for a new hospital complex will be accepted. Officials with University, GRU and Doctors Hospital will then be told to get their mandated “certificate of need” issues resolved, and then return with their proposals once they have been “validated” as legitimate players according to state guidelines.

The details of those CON requirements have been reported far and wide and, as they are written, the only way Doctors and University can even begin to qualify is if county taxpayers agree to cover (likely through sales tax revenue) a “co-pay” of as much as $20 million or more for the facility. There is no such requirement for GRU to meet; they qualify under state guidelines already and, to top it all off, they are offering a larger facility, more hospital beds and a sizable learning campus, all without any financial participation required from Columbia County.

In other words, on paper, the GRU proposal is far and away the superior deal. Added to the value of the package is the fact that GRU’s new facility is believed to be headed more to the Grovetown side of the county, while the other two proposals apparently feature construction plans in the increasingly congested Evans area.

It is my belief that this “CON” move is meant to put a damper on talk that lawsuits will be filed in protest by the rejected suitors and, also, to put a buffer between the final decision and the upcoming county election.

No matter what happens, there are going to be lots of hurt feelings and a fair share of recriminations and accusations of political misbehavior and favoritism. While I do predict GRU will eventually win this battle, it may come at a very high cost for some local commissioners. Let me go out on another limb and say that, by the time this Columbia County facility is finally finished, no matter who built it, Dr. Ricardo Azziz will no longer be the man in charge at the institution known by the name that he personally chose, Georgia Regents University.