An overflow crowd jams into the Government Center Thursday morning as the Albany-Dougherty Hospital Authority holds a public hearing on a request from Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital to lease management rights to Phoebe North for 40 years at $1 per year.
ALBANY, Ga. — An overflow crowd packed the commission meeting room at the Albany Government Center Thursday morning as the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County conducted a public hearing to hear opinions on a request by Phoebe Putney Hospital to lease the former Palmyra Medical Center campus for the next 40 years at a price of $1 a year.
The meeting room could not accommodate the crowd, and some of those attending were moved to a second room where they were provided with live audio of the hearing.
Speakers were not allowed to directly ask questions of the authority members.
The Authority purchased Palmyra last year from Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) for $195 million and staved off several regulatory challenges from the Federal Trade Commission before renaming Palmyra to Phoebe North.
The hearing lasted for more than three hours and more than 30 people took the podium to either pan and praise the proposed lease deal.
One of the first to speak in favor of the lease was local attorney Faison Middleton, who said Phoebe has an excellent track record of managing the Hospital Authority's assets.
"I endorse the lease to Phoebe, though the focus of my comments will be on Phoebe's commitment to this community," Middleton said. "There are many organizations in Albany that would not be the assets they are today without Phoebe."
Corleen Thompson, a physician who sued to block the merger between Phoebe and Palmyra, said the authority should consider taking bids on the management services to see what kinds of deals are available and questioned how a not-for-profit entity could come up so easily with $225 million.
"How does a non-profit like Phoebe come up with an available $225 million for acquisition of three different properties?" Thompson asked. "Remember that prices usually increase after mergers. It's proven that competition is the best thing for reducing prices.
"The welfare of all the citizens of Dougherty County depend upon your actions."
Hope Campbell then weighed in, tongue-lashing the authority members.
"I am astounded by the lack of effort you have taken to research this matter," said Campbell. "You have a fiduciary responsibility to do due diligence in regard to options other than giving Phoebe a monopoly.
"Why did it take the FTC to recognize what you did not — the need to protect our citizens from an over-reaching hospital?"
Palmyra Emergency Center Director Dawn Singleton thinks granting of the lease will be good for Albany.
"My staff has continued to function as it always has." said Singleton. "Some very positive things have happened since the transition. I think that Phoebe is now more invested in our community than ever before."
Phoebe Chief Medical Officer Doug Patton then said, "We have been good stewards of the assets of Phoebe and we'll now be good stewards of Phoebe North."
State Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, praised Phoebe for coming to the aid of Americus after a 2007 tornado destroyed South Georgia Regional Medical Center.
"Our hospital was wiped out by the tornado and Phoebe came in and helped us build the finest under-100-bed hospital in the United States," Hooks said. "This proposal will help the taxpayers and help the state budget."
Dougherty County Commissioner Jack Stone also was in favor of granting the lease.
"HCA never did a thing to help the Dougherty Commission when we were paying millions for indigent care," said Stone."All those years we were putting up our money, and we've been in a tight the last few years. I hope that Phoebe will step up and help Dougherty County like we stepped up and helped Phoebe."
Albany resident Amanda Green, however, wasn't buying into the proposed lease.
"It's all about choices and we don't have any choices now, do we?" asked Green. "Phoebe wants to take all our choices from us. Sure, they will see and treat anybody, I'll give them that. But they will bill you and they will garnish your check.
"Anything they do we all wind up paying for it."
At the end of the hearing Phoebe President and Ceo Joel Wernick addressed the authority.
"The Palmyra acquisition is required to continue the authority's growth strategy," Wernick said. "It will allow for the orderly expansion of vital clinical departments with acute restrictions of space, such as intensive care units, including the only level three neo-natal intensive care unit in South Georgia.
"It will allow for the development of a 'designated' regional trauma center. It will allow for the continued expansion of Phoebe as a teaching hospital where future doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others are educated ... allowing them to live and work where they grew up — right here in Southwest Georgia."