The Georgia Department of Community Health cleared the way Friday for CHI Memorial to build a new hospital in Northwest Georgia by approving a certificate of need for the Ringgold facility.
To avoid duplication of services, Georgia law requires a certificate of need before new medical facilities can be opened.
CHI Memorial wants to build a 64-bed hospital on Battlefield Parkway and shut down its aging facility in Fort Oglethorpe. The effort was challenged by competitor Parkridge Health System, contending the new facility would be located in an already well-served area while leaving behind patients in Fort Oglethorpe.
Based on Friday's decision, CHI Memorial officials said they can now finalize project plans and prepare for a fall groundbreaking, which would allow the new facility to open in fall 2024.
"On behalf of the people of Northwest Georgia, we are thrilled with this decision," Andrew McGill, CHI Memorial's chief strategist, said in a written statement. "CHI Memorial has been committed to this community for nearly 25 years, and this is the next step to ensure the residents have convenient access to care close to home."
Michelle Hindmon, a communication marketing specialist for Parkridge, did not answer when asked whether Parkridge planned to challenge the ruling. She issued a statement.
"Parkridge Health is committed to providing the highest quality health care to all patients we serve," the statement said. "We will continue to support and care for the Georgia community, as we have done for close to 50 years."
The new Ringgold hospital will have 64 inpatient beds, an intensive care unit, a full-service emergency department, operating rooms, an endoscopy lab and a comprehensive imaging center, according to the written release. The $100 million facility will connect to the current CHI Memorial Parkway office complex, creating a single campus on Battlefield Parkway.
"CHI Memorial has been committed to this community for nearly 30 years," Janelle Reilly, CHI Memorial market CEO, said in the release. "Bringing more services to a convenient, patient-friendly campus that is close to a major interstate and in the epicenter of local commercial and residential growth will provide greater access to comprehensive health care closer to home. It's what the people of North Georgia need and deserve, and we are happy to partner with them on this journey."
A bill to repeal the certificate of need system was introduced in the Georgia General Assembly this spring, but it was not approved by House lawmakers. As reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in mid-March, the bill's sponsor, House Majority Whip Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, said the certificate of need system restricts competition and favors large hospital systems.
Steven Henry, former chair of the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners and candidate for District 53 of the Georgia state senate, said the certificate of need approval is good news for the community.
"That's a huge, huge hit for North Georgia, our area, to get a hospital not only for the medical purpose, but for the aspect of economic development. It's a big deal," Henry said.
Battlefield Parkway is becoming even more of a medical corridor, he said - a goal that has always been in the works, but has taken a while to realize.
Henry said he isn't concerned about the hospital leaving Fort Oglethorpe. Initially, he was concerned about the fate of the $9 million vacated hospital until a deal was struck to have the building donated to the county - a deal he said was secured before he stepped down from the county chairman position to run for state Senate.
"That giant building is going to be the make or break for that end of the county and the city of Fort Oglethorpe," Henry said. "I always thought their best partner would be county government because who wants it to succeed more than we do?"
Henry said the county will collect $1.6 million of rent annually for three years. There's no plan for what's going to happen there, but Henry said an authority has been established to craft a plan.