Augusta University may finally get to build a 100-bed hospital in the rapidly growing suburb of Columbia County after the Georgia Court of Appeals rejected a protest from the competing Doctors Hospital of Augusta.
The court ruled Thursday that the state Department of Community Health correctly awarded a certificate of need to the Georgia Board of Regents to build the hospital in 2014. The ruling came after Doctors Hospital won an appeal of a previous Court of Appeals ruling to the state Supreme Court, which ordered the lower court to rehear the case.
"We have concluded ... that the department acted lawfully and within its authority in granting the CON to Georgia Regents" Judge Amanda Mercier wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel.
Augusta University wants to build the hospital just off Interstate 20 near Grovetown. All three Augusta-area hospitals sought the certificate of need.
"As this decision is the fifth time the department's award has been affirmed, we remain confident that this is the right decision for Columbia County," the statement said, saying Augusta University wants to move ahead "without further delay."
The court said the Department of Community Health was within its rights to use tiebreakers to award the license to Augusta University, finding AU had the best history of serving non-paying patients, was offering a teaching hospital and trauma center, and had a lower price per square foot. Doctors planned a total price of $140.7 million while Augusta University's total price for a larger facility was figured at $144.3 million.
Columbia County has offered to pay 20% of the hospital's cost, trying to remedy its status as the most populous county in Georgia without a hospital. The three hospitals are also competing for state permission to build free-standing emergency rooms in Columbia County. Doctors Hospital won permission in June to build the first such facility in Georgia in June, over objections from Augusta University.
"We're just hopeful that the free market will reign and all parties who want to develop in Columbia County will be able to do so. Columbia County Commission Chairman Doug Duncan told WJBF-TV. "Whether they be free-standing emergency rooms or hospitals, we're ready for the citizens to benefit from that."
Doctors Hospital didn't immediately say whether it would again appeal to the Supreme Court.
"There is a lot going on in Columbia County right now in regard to healthcare facilities. At this point in time, we are exploring our options," spokeperson Kaden Jacobs said.