(The Center Square) — When officials in Lee County tried to build “a small acute care hospital” with 60 beds and four operating rooms, it began a multi-year process that cost millions of dollars and didn’t end with the construction of a facility.
“When we started our quest to build a hospital, we knew that it was going to be an uphill battle,” Billy Mathis, the Lee County Commission chairman, told lawmakers during a Senate Study Committee on Certificate of Need Reform hearing on Monday. “For the first couple of years, after you are granted a certificate of need, you fight litigation. The code in Georgia encourages litigation, basically. So, you get your certificate of need, and then all sorts of folks sue you — to put it very plainly.”
State officials approved Lee County’s request for a CON. State officials gave four extensions but ultimately revoked the CON it granted to the county, which planned to issue $135 million in bonds to fund the project, Mathis said.
“We spent a lot of money, and we won all of those battles. But to win those battles, you spend millions of dollars, and you waste a great deal of time,” Mathis said. “Under the law, the state of Georgia can pull your certificate of need, really at any time, just because a bureaucrat in Atlanta decides that’s what should be done.
“The certificate of need laws in Georgia do a very good job of what they’re intended to do,” Mathis added. “The certificate of need laws in Georgia are intended to stifle competition.”
While state lawmakers explored changing or eliminating Georgia’s CON requirement during this year’s legislative session, they ultimately didn’t act.
State Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, introduced Senate Bill 162 to repeal the CON mandate. While the Senate did not advance the measure, it passed SB 99 to scrap CONs for rural hospitals and also signed off on Senate Resolution 279 to create the study committee.
“We want to make sure that all Georgians — rural, urban, otherwise — will have adequate — not just adequate, but quality medical care, and that’s what we’re looking for,” state Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, said during the hearing.
By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor