State OKs Northside move within Cherokee

Northside Hospital announced Thursday that state regulators have given a “green light’’ to its plan to relocate its Cherokee County facility.

The Department of Community Health has agreed that the $250 million project is exempt from certificate-of-need (CON) laws, Northside said in a press release.

A DCH spokeswoman late Thursday confirmed the agency approval to GHN.

Relocation projects within three miles of an existing facility are not subject to the CON laws as long as no new or expanded clinical services are offered at the new site, the hospital said.

“We are very excited that we have received the ‘green light’ to move ahead with this project in order to continue to provide the citizens of Cherokee County with high-quality health care services in a new, modern and more accessible health care facility,” said Billy Hayes, CEO of Northside Hospital-Cherokee, in the press release.

Marietta-based WellStar Health System sent a letter to the state Sept. 1 challenging Northside’s proposed relocation of its Canton hospital. WellStar said through a spokesman that it “believes that Northside Cherokee Hospital has failed to provide sufficient information and documentation to support its request for an exemption.’’

The hospital relocation dispute followed Northside’s opposition last year to an ambulatory surgery center that WellStar plans to build at its proposed east Cobb “Health Park.”

Experts say WellStar and Northside view each other as competitors, battling for customers in the affluent northern suburbs of Atlanta. Here’s a recent GHN article on that competition.

Northside’s Hayes added in the Thursday press release: “In light of this affirmative decision, any further objections or appeals by WellStar would simply be an attempt to delay the project.”

A WellStar spokesman, Keith Bowermaster, said Thursday that “WellStar is disappointed by the state’s decision, but has no other comment at this time.’’

Georgia’s certificate-of-need (CON) process is a complicated set of regulations governing medical facilities’ expansion and construction, as well as services such as obstetrics and heart surgery.

Georgia and other states created this type of regulatory system decades ago to contain health care costs. Several states have eliminated such systems, while others have scaled back the regulations.

A 2008 Georgia law streamlined the CON process, exempting more hospital projects from regulatory review, such as the building of parking decks.

The Canton project has a March 2015 expected opening date. The original hospital opened in 1962.

The new hospital is to be built near I-575 at the Georgia Highway 20 exit, less than three miles from the current location, which Northside says has limitations and capacity constraints.

Northside also operates hospitals in Atlanta and Cumming.