ALBANY — The Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission board voted unanimously Wednesday to write a letter in support of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital's purchase of the former Hospital Corporation of America-owned Palmyra Medical Center, a purchase that is being challenged by the Federal Trade Commission.
EDC Chairman Jay Smith brought the proposal to the board at its Wednesday meeting, saying he had been approached by Phoebe officials seeking the letter of support.
"I believe time is of the essence on this; it needs to be done this week," Smith said.
Several board members spoke in favor of the request, although board member Anthony Parker, the president of Albany Technical College, offered a level of support that stopped short of Smith's recommendation.
"I believe some of us could write letters about our personal positive experiences at Phoebe, but I don't think we could write letters in support of the purchase," Parker said.
Board member Milan Patel suggested federal officials would be looking for data that indicate Phoebe does not have a health care monopoly in the region, a concern that led the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn by a 9-0 vote earlier court decisions OKing the purchase. Board members Jim Deal and Richard Crowdis refuted that approach.
"I don't think we should approach this as supporting (the purchase) from the legal side," Deal said. "That's what the lawyers are for. Our support should come from an economic development perspective."
Crowdis, the Dougherty County administrator, said the EDC should concern itself with economics.
"Our letter should not be technical or data-driven," he said. "We have a mission to support our large industries. Phoebe is one of the community's economic engines, and this body should always support its economic engines."
Board member Chris Hatcher also supported Phoebe's request.
"The Economic Development Commission board is about jobs, and (Phoebe) is one of the largest employers in our community," Hatcher said. "One of the largest health care companies in America (HCA) didn't want to be here, and we were lucky to have a buyer (of Palmyra's facilities) right here. This purchase saved about 500 jobs in this region; if it goes the other way we're talking about a significant loss of jobs and a boarded-up building."
Also at the meeting, the board voted to approve a $30,000 proposal by the Montreal-based Research on Investment business intelligence firm, which specializes in facilitating corporate investment site location. EDC President Ted Clem said three different proposals were presented to his staff, which recommended accepting the one by ROI.
"Their team specializes in whittling down (business prospects) to a handful of companies," Clem said. "Their international expertise is outstanding, and they're not going to give us a cookie-cutter list (of prospects). They'll compile a list that is specifically geared toward our strengths, and it will be ours exclusively."