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Appeals court to hear hospital case

ALBANY, Ga. -- The battle over who should be able to provide obstetrical services in Albany continues. Palmyra Medical Center officials have announced that the Georgia Court of Appeals has agreed to hear their case in their quest to establish a Level 1 perinatal service.

In an advertisement that ran Sunday in The Albany Herald, Palmyra CEO Mark Rader stated: "We clearly proved to the State and the Department of Community Health that a program should exist that will offer the public choice with Obstetrical Services, and if you recall we were victorious in Atlanta last year with two separate appeal attempts by Phoebe (Putney Memorial Hospital).

"My argument with regard to this case has always been that our community deserves no less than any other community when it comes to health care options. It is clear to anyone looking at this why Phoebe is fighting our OB program ... simply put, to continue to hold a monopoly that denies citizens a choice when it comes to healthcare decisions.

"It is time we be allowed to offer a service that will immediately begin impacting our community in a positive manner. To that end, Palmyra is moving forward and has hired a Director of Women's and Children's Services to oversee our efforts and to make certain we provide the outstanding quality and service that is a hallmark at Palmyra. We will continue to fight for this community so that one day you too will have the freedom of choice that should not be denied to the citizens of Southwest Georgia."

Eric Riggle, spokesman for Palmyra, said the court's agreement to hear their appeal is a step in the right direction.

"The positive part is that they did take the case," he said. "What we do is we send the application to the court, and they may or may not take it."

No hearing date had been set Monday, nor had there been a judge assigned to the case.

In January, Phoebe filed petitions for judicial review in Dougherty and Sumter counties after the DCH issued its final order to allow Palmyra to offer obstetrical services to patients in a 10-county area.

In June, Southwestern Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge George Peagler in Sumter reversed four of seven grounds in Phoebe's favor. Several days later, Superior Court Judge Stephen Goss in Dougherty reversed the final order in Phoebe's favor after finding in Phoebe's favor on two of the eight issues that Phoebe contended were in error.

Tommy Chambless, senior vice president and general counsel with Phoebe Putney Health System, said he was not surprised the development and that Phoebe would continue to maintain its position.

"What this continues to be about is the health of mothers and babies in the state," he said. "The problem is that when the agency (DCH) got through dealing with the application and we took the case into superior court, the judges felt HCA (Hospital Corporation of America, Palmyra's owners) failed to meet the statutes.

"It would appear that to the DCH the law said they were supposed to get OB services. That's not true. We are confident that when they (the Court of Appeals) get through the analysis that they'll come to the same conclusion."

Palmyra's Certificate of Need, filed in August 2008, was approved by the DCH. Phoebe appealed that decision. A year later, DCH Hearing Officer Ellwood Oakley III affirmed the CON approval. Phoebe filed the petitions in the superior court system after DCH Commissioner Dr. Rhonda Medows affirmed Oakley's decision.