New Georgia rule weakens Parkridge challenge to Memorial's stalled Ringgold hospital

CHI Memorial / A rendering shows plans for a new hospital near Ringgold, Ga.

A health care regulatory board in Georgia unanimously approved a rule change Thursday to prevent out-of-state providers from appealing state-approved projects such as 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 that certificate was effectively suspended in May when Chattanooga-based Parkridge Health submitted an appeal on the basis that Parkridge offers "substantially similar services" just over the state line in Tennessee.

Parkridge's appeal prompted a significant backlash among some North Georgia residents and elected officials, who said providers from other states shouldn't have a say in whether a health care facility is built in Georgia, even if they provide similar services within a 35-mile range -- a threshold that providers must meet in order to appeal such projects.

"CHI Memorial is thrilled that the board has gone on record confirming what we all knew was the case -- that an out-of-state entity should not be able to stop an approved CON project," Andrew McGill, CHI Memorial's chief strategist, said in a phone interview.

A hearing officer is set to review Parkridge's appeal sometime in mid- to late-November, and McGill said he's hopeful the board will take the latest rule change into account and dismiss the appeal based on lack of standing. But until that opinion is issued or Parkridge drops the appeal, groundbreaking for the North Georgia hospital is on hold.

"Parkridge could file paperwork to say, 'We're standing down' -- they're going to respect the decision of the department and end this appeal," McGill said. "It's in their hands to do that. Right now, we will continue to wait for this final step of the hearing officer in November."

(READ MORE: 'Stand Down Parkridge' rally aims to quell opposition to new Catoosa County hospital)

Depending on what the hearing officer says, Parkridge could potentially challenge that decision and further delay the project, McGill said.

Parkridge spokesperson Jamie Lawson said via email Thursday afternoon it's too soon to say what Parkridge will do.

"We learned of today's rule change, and we'll review it carefully to determine next steps," Lawson said. "Parkridge Health is committed to providing the highest quality health care to all patients we serve. We are proud to support and care for the Georgia community, as we have done for close to 50 years."

Karesha Laing, interim executive director of Georgia's Office of Health Planning, said during a livestreamed meeting Thursday that 129 written comments in support of the rule change were received from various Georgians, including representatives from several Georgia hospital advocacy groups, the mayor of Fort Oglethorpe and retiring state Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), who is president and CEO of the Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority.

There were no opposing comments, Laing said.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at or 423-757-6673. Follow her on Twitter @ecfite.