Phoebe appealing Appeals Court CON ruling

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- The long-standing battle between Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and Palmyra Medical Center over Palmyra providing maternity services is headed to the state's highest court.

In a statement late Wednesday afternoon, Phoebe officials said the hospital has filed formal notice that it will ask the Georgia Supreme Court to review the July 5 decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals.

The Appeals Court, in a 3-0 vote, overturned rulings by superior court judges in Dougherty County and Sumter County in challenges brought by Phoebe and Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, respectively, against Palmyra and the state Department of Community Health, which awarded Palmyra the certificate of need, or CON, that would enable it to provide basic perinatal services.

Phoebe officials' statement Wednesday was similar to one it issued last week before the notice of appeal was made.

"We believe the rulings of Superior Court Judges Stephen Goss in Dougherty County and George Peagler in Sumter County were correctly decided on the law," Phoebe officials said. "We are disappointed in the decision by the Court of Appeals to overturn those rulings, which denied Palmyra Medical Center a certificate of need to provide basic perinatal services.

"Phoebe's position remains that there is no need for a second OB program in our community. Phoebe has reinvested significant resources to provide mothers and babies with the highest levels of safety, including a neonatal intensive care unit, and a second program would compromise quality and safety."

In tossing out the CON, Goss and Peagler said DCH overstepped its bounds under a 2008 revision by the Georgia Legislature of the state's CON laws.

The Appeals Court, in its July 5 ruling, combined the four cases in which Palmyra and DCH appealed the superior court rulings.

In the opinion, Appeal Court Presiding Judge Anne Elizabeth Barnes wrote: "The record includes substantial evidence to support the agency's findings of fact, and the conclusions of law drawn from those findings of fact are sound. Pruitt Corp., 284 Ga. at 161.

Accordingly, because the agency's decision to grant Palmyra's CON application was not based on legal error or unlawful procedures, was not arbitrary or capricious, and did not prejudice the opposing parties' substantial rights, we reverse the superior courts' orders to the contrary."

Also up in the air is what impact the cases will have in light of the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County's planned purchase of Palmyra from Hospital Corporation of America for $195 million.

That deal has been temporarily halted after the Federal Trade Commission, which wants to bring the purchase before an administrative judge in September, said it would appeal U.S. District Court Judge Louis Sands' ruling in late June that the FTC had no standing to delay the sale.

On July 6, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the FTC an emergency injunction to prevent the sale from going through until the FTC can appeal Sands' ruling.