Now that the Department of Community Health (DCH) has awarded the all important certificate of need to Georgia Regents Medical Center for the much anticipated Columbia County hospital, there’s still a lot to be decided and even more that remains unclear.
First, there’s the chance of an appeal by University Hospital and/or Doctor’s Hospital. Both have 30 days after the announcement to file an appeal, and from there everything is up in the air, including the timetable.
“The board down there can do anything they want to,” says Ron Cross, chairman of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners. “They can expedite it or they can take months. To be optimistic, we might could do something in six months, but more realistic is maybe not that quick.”
Until then, Cross says, everything is pretty much on hold.
“It’s got to run its course,” he says. “One of the most aggravating things is the time it takes to handle this. We’ve been at it right at two years now.”
Two years ago, Cross and Administrator Scott Johnson made the first trip to Atlanta regarding their new desire for a hospital, and though they anticipated the possibility of an appeal should the DCH award the certificate of need, it doesn’t make the waiting any easier.
“Early on we were told that they would try to expedite any appeals once their decision was made,” he says. “That’s just what they do and we’ll stay out of the way. I will try to maybe have some conversation with the director there in the next few days, but I have not done that yet.”
He hasn’t really even discussed things with his fellow commissioners. According to Cross, he’s only had one informal conversation with Johnson and one with another one of the commissioners.
The uncertainty also throws all the funding options in limbo, too.
Money could potentially come from bonds issued by the Development Authority as well from the recently passed SPLOST referendum. Even Cross is unsure which avenue the county will choose.
“We are a little uncertain about that ourselves,” he says. “The Development Authority could [issue $30 million in bonds] with their means over a period of 10 or 15 years and we could proceed with the other things that are in the contingency list.”
Those things include a massive baseball facility that would be capable of hosting regional baseball tournaments.
“That’s something we’re looking at long term to bring a tourism type event here,” Cross says. “We can do that with soccer at Blanchard Woods, we can host those regional fishing tournaments at Clarks Hill and we will have the BMX track just shortly that will bring people from out of town. A real nice baseball complex would be advantageous.”
However, Cross admits the financing is complicated, especially given the fact that the SPLOST referendum was voted on without a clear understanding of exactly what was going to happen with the hospital.
“Scott [Johnson] says the wording in the referendum would allow us to do that,” Cross says. “Again, there’s no question the understanding of the voters was that [the $30 million] would go to the hospital and in the event we didn’t get a hospital, it would go to the contingency list. There’s a lot of discussion and a lot of legalities to look at.”
However it all works out with DCH, should GRU clearly emerge with the Certificate of Need, they will locate the new hospital on approximately 60 acres that’s across from the county’s exhibition center at the Gateway area in Grovetown. The county has an additional 100 acres where they’d like to put the baseball complex, even though some would say a better use for the land might be for professional buildings to support the new hospital.
“That’s kind of a lack of knowledge there,” Cross says. “There’s plenty of land out there for both. First, GRU was thinking of a 100-acre campus, but they scaled it back to about 60, which is still a tremendous amount of land. Plus, there’s another 500 or 600 acres out there that’s not even explored.”
All of which makes the current expansion plans for Horizon South Parkway that much more important to the people who live and plan to work in the area.
“We’ve got tremendous opportunities, but we’ve got tremendous challenges,” he says. “They kind of go hand in hand.”