Palmyra wins appeal decision

ALBANY -- Palmyra Medical Center is now one step closer to delivering babies in Southwest Georgia.

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

Palmyra seemed encouraged by the news.

"It's a positive thing for the community," said Eric Riggle, spokesman for Palmyra. "The community has talked about wanting choice. Most people in the community are ready to move ahead."

The CON was filed in August 2008. The Department of Community Health approved the hospital's CON application in January to provide Level One obstetrical services to residents of Albany and Southwest Georgia.

Palmyra's proposal to provide basic Level One obstetrical services includes 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.

Palmyra officials say they are currently in the architectural phases, and are ready to move ahead quickly with the final design and construction of the obstetrical wing.

"As soon as we have final approval, we will move forward," Riggle said. "We are ready to get plans back on track. We are trying to get to the end of the process."

Palmyra filed an antitrust suit in U.S. District Court last year arguing that Phoebe had monopolized certain basic services and was standing in the way of providing competition that it contends would lower health care costs. In March, U.S. District Judge Louis Sands granted Phoebe's motion to dismiss the suit.

While officials with Phoebe had not seen or reviewed the decision as of Wednesday afternoon, Jackie Ryan, the hospital's assistant vice president of marketing, said their feelings on the issue have not changed. She attributed safety and potentially adverse impacts on the quality of care as one of their concerns.

"Choice comes in many forms. It's not a matter of choosing here or there, but choosing the best quality and technology," she said. "Child birth can go from the uncomplicated to the complex in a matter of seconds. That's why we have invested in the highest level of care for the citizens of this region."

Officials with Phoebe also argue their is no need for another outlet of obstetrical services in the area.

"The number of births has been stable for many years and our population is not growing," Ryan added.

In April, attorneys with Palmyra filed paperwork stating their intention to appeal the dismissal.