Georgia high court stalls Augusta University Health's 100-bed county hospital

Augusta (Ga.) University Health's plan to build a 100-bed hospital in Columbia County (Ga.) was delayed again after the Georgia Supreme Court sent a case attempting to stop construction back to a lower court, according to The Augusta Chronicle.

Augusta-based Doctors Hospital filed the most recent lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Community Health for granting Augusta University a certificate of need to build the $150 million hospital using a rare exception. 

The exception allows a facility to be built in a county where it would be the only hospital if the county agrees to pay 20 percent of the cost. Columbia County has already agreed to help foot the bill.

The lawsuit filed by Doctors Hospital is its latest attempt to oppose the certificate of need since it was awarded to Augusta University in November 2014.

Doctors Hospital argued that Georgia Department of Community Health was outside its legal authority to grant the certificate of need via the exception and that the department improperly interpreted its own regulations in granting a permit. 

The lower court had ruled that the department was within the scope of the law and that courts should defer to an agency's interpretation of its own rules. Doctors Hospital appealed the lower court decision to the Georgia Supreme Court. 

The most recent Supreme Court ruling sent the case back to the lower court for a new decision.

"Our intentions to welcome 2020 by breaking ground on a new hospital for the residents of Columbia County have been disrupted by the news from the Georgia Supreme Court that will result in further delays," Augusta University Health CEO Katrina Keefer told The Augusta Chronicle. "We remain confident that the Georgia Court of Appeals will again rule consistent with the law and in our favor to allow Augusta University Health System to build Columbia County's first hospital."

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