A proposed rule change to Georgia health care regulations would prevent out-of-state facilities from trying to block state-approved projects - leaving local hospital officials questioning whether the change would affect the stalled CHI Memorial Georgia hospital in Catoosa County.
State regulators in April granted CHI Memorial a certificate of need, which is akin to a permit, to relocate its current North Georgia hospital in Fort Oglethorpe by building a more than $100 million replacement more than five miles east in Ringgold. But Chattanooga-based Parkridge Health is appealing that certificate of need on the basis that Parkridge offers "substantially similar services" just over the state line in Tennessee, which is within a 35-mile radius of Memorial's project.
To appeal a Georgia certificate of need, the current rules state parties must either offer substantially similar services within a 35-mile radius of the proposed project, have submitted an application proposing the same type of facility or have an overlapping service area. The rules do not state the challenger's services or projects must be located in Georgia.
As a result, the appeal effectively suspended Memorial's certificate of need and stopped the project until the situation resolves, which could take years.
Parkridge's decision to appeal the project has prompted significant backlash among some North Georgia residents, who say political games are keeping them from getting their new hospital.
In a public notice published Aug. 11, the Georgia Department of Community Health proposed a rule change that would prevent similar appeals in the future by requiring challengers to be located in or planning to expand into Georgia, which Parkridge is not.
It's unclear if the change would apply retroactively to appeals submitted before the new rule or if Parkridge's appeal, which was submitted in May, would be allowed to stay.
"We don't know," Andrew McGill, CHI Memorial's chief strategist, said in a phone interview, "and that's because as the process has started, the hearing body that deals with this hasn't gotten it yet."
There's a public comment period on the issue until 5 p.m Sept. 9, and a state board will vote on the proposed rule changes Oct. 13.
"We're just glad that the department took this step, because we think it reaffirms what we've been saying all along," McGill said. "Taxpayers in Georgia should not be impacted by someone in another state just because it's in their own best interest from where they sit."
Parkridge officials also were unsure how the rule would affect their appeal and said in an emailed statement they are "currently looking into the proposed rule change" for Georgia's certificate of need appeals process.
"We remain committed to providing the highest quality health care to all patients we serve," the statement said.
An attorney for the Georgia Department of Community Health, the state agency that proposed the rule change and oversees certificates of need, did not respond to questions related to how the change would affect Parkridge's appeal by press time.
Parkridge operates two hospitals in neighboring Hamilton County, Tennessee - Parkridge Medical Center, which according to Google Maps is 11 miles from Memorial's new hospital location, and Parkridge East, which is 6 1/2 miles from the new site.
Parkridge East also recently received approval in Tennessee to construct a freestanding emergency department near Camp Jordan in East Ridge, six miles from the Battlefield Parkway site. CHI Memorial officials were appealing that project but recently dropped their appeal.
The new CHI Memorial hospital on Battlefield Parkway - a growing hub for commercial and health care businesses - would replace the health system's aging facility in Fort Oglethorpe, which is slated to close and be donated to local government once the new hospital opens.
Contact Elizabeth Fite at email@example.com or 423-757-6673. Follow her on Twitter @ecfite.