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Phoebe, Palmyra battle headed to court

ALBANY -- When the Georgia Department of Community Health decided to uphold its approval to authorize Palmyra Medical Center to provide Level One obstetrical services, officials with Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital decided to take the next step.

On Friday, Phoebe announced their intent to take their case into the superior court system.

"From the outset we have been opposed to this," said Tommy Chambless, senior vice president and general counsel with Phoebe. "It's a quality issue as far as health care is concerned."

Phoebe officials have argued their case on two basic points, the first of which is that child birth can go from complicated to complex in a matter of seconds, and that a basic level of care would result in dozens of the region's babies being born into an environment in which they cannot be cared for.

"A patient is never more at risk than when they are being transported," said Dr. Richard Heath, medical director for Phoebe's neonatal intensive care unit. "It (the Department of Community Health decision) comes as a sentence to newborn babies. They are allowing patients to be

delivered into a lower quality of care."

Dr. Michael Edwards, director of internal fetal medicine at Phoebe, believes there has not been enough growth in the area to make another obstetrical unit a necessity.

"We've had 3,000 deliveries a year for 20 years," he said. "We don't expect that to increase anytime soon."

Palmyra officials said Friday they are disappointed by the course of action Phoebe has taken in continuing the dispute.

"Palmyra Medical Center is extremely pleased for the people of Southwest Georgia that the hospital has officially has been granted its Certificate of Need (CON) to provide Level One Obstetrical Services," said Palmyra CEO Mark Rader in a statement e-mailed to The Herald


"It is a major disappointment for the community and Palmyra to hear Phoebe Putney will file judicial action to stop citizens from having a choice where they can birth their babies. After being granted our initial CON and winning two appeals during a long hearing process, and after a very long dispute over two decades, obviously we hoped Phoebe would accept the positive result for this community."

Phoebe anticipates filing their case in Dougherty County by mid

January. Chambless said the hospital is determined to take their opposition as far as it will go.

"The commitment to the community is worth fighting for," he said.

After an ongoing battle between the two hospitals, the hearing officer

with the CON Appeal Panel affirmed in October the original state Department of Community Health decision to grant a CON to Palmyra to begin delivering babies.

Palmyra's proposal to provide these services include developing a new woman's center that will offer labor and delivery services as well as basic inpatient care for new mothers and newborns without complications. The CON was filed in August 2008, and the state Department of Community Health approved the hospital's application in January to provide Level One obstetrical services.