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Dougherty County cites increased costs, CON legitimacy in Lee hospital lawsuit

Dougherty County filed a lawsuit April 19 in Fulton County Superior Court against the Georgia Department of Community Health. / Mary Green

Right now, all is quiet outside the future site of the Lee County Medical Center, at the former location of the Grand Island Golf Course just off Ledo Road.

If Dougherty County has its way, it will stay like that.

Dougherty County filed a lawsuit April 19 in Fulton County Superior Court against the Georgia Department of Community Health to try to prevent the medical center from getting its certificate of need (CON), which was approved last November. That came just one day before Crisp Regional dropped its appeal against the CON approval.

Dougherty County is also suing DCH Commission Frank Berry and Executive Director of Health Planning Rachel King. The lawsuit was filed by Robert Rozier of Baker Hostetler LLP and verified by Dougherty County Attorney Spencer Lee.

The lawsuit said the hospital does not meet the DCH's requirements for a CON, so the application should not have been approved.

Lee County Commissioner Rick Muggridge said that isn't true.

"Our application for a CON to construct a 60-bed hospital in Lee County that we submitted to the Department of Community Health was properly vetted, tested and found complete and true," Muggridge said April 20.

According to the lawsuit, Dougherty County is suing because building a new hospital will hurt existing hospitals in the area, including Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

The lawsuit cites studies that say there is already a surplus of inpatient beds in this area, while the population and occupancy rates are declining.

The lawsuit said, "These hospitals will be harmed because the new, for-profit facility will be financially feasible in a market with declining population and utilization only if it succeeds in diverting patients and profitable service lines from existing providers."

Later on, the lawsuit claims, "the proposed hospital will increase costs of healthcare for residents of Dougherty County."

But Muggridge said this lawsuit is what will cost those residents in the end.

"Who knows how many thousands of dollars will be spent in depositions and briefs and this and that?" he said. "The Georgia taxpayers are on the hook. The Dougherty County taxpayers are on the hook."

FOX 31 reached out to Dougherty County and the Georgia Department of Community Health for comment on this report. Both said they have no comment at this time.

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