ATLANTA — CHI Memorial Hospital argued Monday that the North Georgia community would suffer if Erlanger Health System gets to open a surgery center in Ringgold.
Kathlynn Polvino, an attorney representing CHI Memorial and the Catoosa County government, told Georgia Department of Community Health representatives that Erlanger's proposed surgery center would hurt CHI Memorial Georgia. First, it could draw surgery patients from the hospital's campus in Fort Oglethorpe. It also would compete with CHI Memorial's own planned surgery center on Battlefield Parkway.
"This project would undermine having a financially stable, viable hospital in the community," Polvino said Monday, during an opposition hearing to Erlanger's proposed project.
In November, Erlanger applied for a certificate of need for a planned, $9.8 million surgery center on Battlefield Parkway. The center would hold five rooms next to Erlanger South Family Medicine.
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In the application, Erlanger Senior Vice President of Planning and Business Development Joe Winick said the certificate of need that Hutcheson Medical Center once held to perform surgeries in the region had lapsed. He said nobody had performed operations since 2015, when Hutcheson closed its doors amid bankruptcy.
That argument is important because ApolloMD bought Hutcheson in December 2015, and CHI Memorial bought the hospital from ApolloMD on Dec. 29. In a separate move in November, CHI Memorial bought Hutcheson's former surgery center on Battlefield Parkway from Regions Bank for $4.5 million.
Essentially, Winick argued that CHI Memorial needs to apply for a certificate of need from the Department of Community Health to perform the surgeries that occurred in that building under the Hutcheson name.
Polvino said there are a couple of problems with Winick's argument. She said the right to perform surgeries does not simply lapse. If you run a hospital, you have that right. She also said the surgery center is tied to the old Hutcheson main campus in Fort Oglethorpe. Whoever operates one, operates the other.
Since the November purchase, CHI Memorial has not opened the surgery center. But, according to a letter submitted to the Department of Community Health on Monday, the hospital has begun to renovate the building, buy new equipment and recruit surgeons. Seven surgeons have applied to practice at one of CHI Memorial's two new North Georgia campuses.
To open their center, Erlanger representatives have to show people in the community need it.
"There is no need," Polvino said. "There is no gap in care."
Erlanger has until March 16 to file a formal response to the opposition. The Department of Community Health will decide on Erlanger's application March 26.
Catoosa County Attorney Chad Young and County Commission Chairman Steve Henry attended the meeting but did not speak. Polvino represented their arguments. Primarily, the county's leaders have said they do not support Erlanger because it could hurt CHI Memorial's new Fort Oglethorpe hospital. This, in turn, could hurt business development.
CHI Memorial submitted letters in support of their plan from Henry, County Commissioner Jim Cutler, School Superintendent Denia Reese, Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority Chairman Chip Catlett and the Rev. Joe Brown, pastor of Battlefield Parkway Church of the Nazarene.
In addition to saying Erlanger's surgery center could take patients and money from CHI Memorial, some Catoosa County representatives expressed hard feelings over the previous relationship between Erlanger and Hutcheson. The two sides entered a management agreement in 2011 that lasted two years.
Hutcheson's board voted to end the agreement, saying Erlanger didn't provide all of the specialists it promised. The hospital went bankrupt a year later. Though Erlanger representatives have argued they entered a hospital on the brink of collapse, some in North Georgia think Erlanger killed the operation.
"Because of the fiasco with Erlanger's take over of Hutcheson, we, the taxpayers, had to pick up the financial pieces," Brown wrote in his letter.
Said Polvino: "Erlanger ran Hutcheson Medical Center into the ground."
Hamilton Medical Center also filed a letter of opposition to Erlanger's plan, saying the community does not need another surgery center. Citing Department of Community Health figures, Hamilton Medical Center representatives said Health Plan Area 1 actually has 13 more surgery operating rooms than needed, based on the population.
Health Care Area 1 encompasses 14 counties in the northwestern-most counties of the state. In its letter, Hamilton Medical Center said its own hospital could handle about 1,700 more surgeries a year, if needed.
The hospital also said Erlanger's presence will cost them serious money. For Erlanger's project to work, Hamilton Medical Center's representatives estimated, it would need to draw 750 of their patients from Whitfield and Murray counties. If Erlanger pulled this off, it would cost Hamilton Medical Center $1.3 million a year.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.