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Hospital authority to fight Palmyra CON

ALBANY -- After an ongoing legal battle between Palmyra Medical Center and Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, the hearing officer with the Certificate of Need (CON) Appeal Panel affirmed last month the original Department of Community Health decision to grant a CON to Palmyra to begin delivering babies.

The Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County approved a motion Thursday to evaluate their options for appealing the decision that put Palmyra one step closer to providing obstetrical services.

"We are carefully considering how we are going to (address the officer's decision)," said Joel Wernick, president and CEO of Phoebe Putney Health System.

The case Wernick presented to the authority was twofold. He said there is no need for an additional outlet of services and that there are increased risks to patient safety.

"The number of babies projected to be born is not going to be changed in the next 10 to 15 years," he said. "If you were having a baby in Albany and something goes bump in the middle of the night, Phoebe (has the capability) to deal with that."

Dr. John Inman, a retired obstetrician and authority member, supported Wernick's case.

"We have all the space we need," he said. "So many complications with normal obstetrical patients come up so quickly."

Officials have 30 days in which to take action in modifying the decision. The motion, put forth by former Dougherty County Commissioner Lamar Reese, was approved with unanimous consent.

"We are confident we are going to prevail," Wernick added.

Palmyra's proposal to provide these services include developing a new women'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 Department of Community Health approved the hospital's application in January to provide Level One obstetrical services.

"We have been very encouraged by the outpouring of support for obstetrical services at Palmyra. The time has come for this community to move on and give people the opportunity to have choice," Palmyra CEO Mark Rader said in a statement e-mailed to The Herald Thursday. "Why should the people of Southwest Georgia not have the same degree of choice as the rest of the state when it comes to where they can birth their children?

"We believe our position is the right one and we will continue to fight on behalf of the people of Southwest Georgia who want a real choice when it comes to health care."

Wernick also updated the authority on the groundbreaking of Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, which was held Tuesday in Americus and featured former President Jimmy Carter as speaker.

"It was a treat to have the former president here," he said. "All the city and county officials there have more than bent over backward (to make the hospital happen). There is plenty of anticipation there; it is a very charming community."

Wernick also gave an update on the construction of the Willson Hospice House. The facility, which is being built adjacent to the Darton College campus, has an anticipated opening date of April or May of next year.

In other business, the authority re-elected their officers for a 2010 term. The chairman is Ralph Rosenberg, the vice chairman is Charles Lingle, the Rev. Eugene Sherman will be the the secretary/treasurer and Inman will remain the assistant secretary.