WellStar Health Systems' contention that Northside Hospital-Cherokee's relocation efforts should go through the same state review process of other hospitals lacks "legitimate basis," a state-appointed hearing officer ruled this week.
"I am pleased that the hearing officer swiftly and decisively rejected WellStar’s continued opposition," Cherokee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Buzz Ahrens said today in a statement. "The residents of Cherokee County deserve a new, state-of-the art hospital and I would hope that WellStar’s baseless opposition efforts will now cease."
However, WellStar spokesman Keith Bowermaster didn't rule out the possibility of another challenge.
"WellStar is considering its options and will decide at the appropriate time if it will appeal this decision," he said in an email to Canton-Sixes Patch.
Northside wants to build a new $250 million replacement facility near Canton Marketplace. Since last year, WellStar officials have contended that actions and statements by Northside have made it clear that once completed, the new facility would greatly expand the services currently provided at Northside's present home on Hospital Road.
"Thus, like every other hospital in the state, they must go through the (Certificate of Need) process" that regulates the construction of health care facilities, Bowermaster told Canton-Sixes Patch back in November.
The Georgia Department of Community Health rejected that notion in October. But in November, WellStar filed an appeal with the same agency.
Today, Bowermaster said: "WellStar Health System respectfully disagrees with the Hearing Officer's decision to allow the planned relocation and expansion of Northside Hospital-Cherokee through an exemption to the CON process. The CON process ensures transparency and compliance, and, to-date, Northside has refused to answer questions regarding its plans for the new facility."
Northside executives said WellStar's continuous challenges aren't about transparency or compliance.
"Their repeated efforts and tactics are proof positive that they are doing everything they can to delay this much needed replacement facility," Northside Hospital-Cherokee CEO Billy Hayes said in a statement. "Their actions clearly are designed to deny area residents access to a new, state-of-the-art hospital and the Cherokee community is becoming increasingly opposed to their efforts. The community support for the project is overwhelming."
Northside spokesman Russ Davis called WellStar's actions "intolerable.
"It is truly remarkable that a hospital not located in Cherokee County, that’s more than 20 miles away would be more concerned over potential loss of business than the support of the residents of Cherokee County, who need and deserve a new hospital in their community."
Once all opposition is dropped, he said, the project is expected to be completed within two years after the start of construction.