Hamilton Medical Center to appeal certificate of need decision

Jeff Myers, CEO of Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, Ga., is pictured in front of the facility in 2009.

DALTON, Ga. - Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle met with Hamilton Health Care System officials Monday to discuss possible reform to the state's certificate of need program.

Last week, state regulators denied Hamilton's application to spend $5.2 million on hospital renovations in order to establish an open heart surgery program.

Hamilton CEO Jeff Myers said he was "shocked" by the state's decision because the hospital's service area includes a rapidly growing and aging population of more than 400,000 adults who now must travel to Chattanooga for cardiac care.

"We hear stories every day of people going through the challenge in the emergency room - needing to be transferred up to Chattanooga for care, delays in transportation, delays and access issues with Medicaid and self-pay coverage," Myers said. "When you look at the need of the region, need of the area, we're very disappointed in the decision, but we will be appealing."

While Georgia's certificate of need program is meant to control costs and guarantee access based on a population's need for health care services, reform advocates say the laws need to be modernized.

A recent resolution established the Senate Study Committee on Certificate of Need Reform - comprised of 13 members appointed by the lieutenant governor - to recommend improvements and draft new legislation.

Cagle, who is running for governor, said the committee will look at issues that include a bureaucratic process that creates expensive legal challenges for health care providers and flaws in the law that consider need on the state rather than regional level.

Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.