CANTON — The proposed new hospital for Cherokee County on Highway 20 at Interstate 575 is another step closer to becoming a reality.
Northside Hospital-Cherokee officials are ready to move forward with their relocation project following a decision this week that struck down an appeal to the Georgia Department of Community Health.
The appeal, filed last November by Marietta-based WellStar Health System, contended the hospital needed a Certificate of Need to replace the present Canton hospital with one at the new location.
Department of Community Health spokeswoman Pam Keene said in a release that the order, issued Thursday, affirms the department’s determination that Northside did not need prior CON review to replace the present hospital.
WellStar can appeal the latest order in Superior Court if it chooses, Keene said.
WellStar officials said Friday they have not yet decided whether to appeal the decision in the latest round of legal battles over the proposed hospital.
The hospital project is expected to cost about $250 million and is slated for completion by March 2015.
Billy Hayes, CEO of Northside Hospital-Cherokee, said in a release Friday that community support for the project is overwhelming. He also struck out at WellStar for trying to halt the process.
“WellStar’s continued opposition and their repeated efforts and tactics are proof positive that they are doing everything they can to delay this much needed replacement facility,” Hayes said. “Their actions clearly are designed to deny area residents access to a new, state-of-the-art hospital and the Cherokee community is becoming increasingly opposed to their efforts.”
WellStar spokesman Keith Bowermaster said in a release his organization respectfully disagrees with the hearing officer’s decision and views it as an exemption to the CON process.
“The CON process ensures transparency and compliance and, to-date, Northside has refused to answer questions regarding its plans for the new facility,” Bowermaster said.
Bowermaster said WellStar is considering its options and will decide at the appropriate time if it will appeal the decision.
Northside Hospital spokesman Russ Davis said WellStar officials’ continued opposition shows they are attempting to postpone the development of a facility that will be well-received by the community.
“It is truly remarkable that a hospital not located in Cherokee County that’s more than 20 miles away would be more concerned over potential loss of business than the support of the residents of Cherokee County, who need and deserve a new hospital in their community,” Davis said.
Davis added once all opposition is dropped, construction of the new facility will be completed in about two years.
“WellStar’s baseless appeal already has delayed this vitally important project and further appeals will only continue to do so,” he said, adding that Northside will do everything possible to proceed in earnest.
Buzz Ahrens, chairman of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners, said he was pleased with the decision to allow the hospital to move forward.
“The residents of Cherokee County deserve a new, state-of-the art hospital and I would hope that WellStar’s baseless opposition efforts will now cease,” Ahrens said.
“Northside is a high-quality, community healthcare provider with a long-standing commitment to serving Cherokee County,” said Sen. Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock). “Northside’s decision to invest in such a major way for the health care needs of the residents of Cherokee County will benefit the community tremendously.”
Northside filed a letter of determination with the Georgia Department of Community Health in early August last year to replace its current, 84-bed Northside Hospital-Cherokee facility on Hospital Road with a new facility on a 100-acre tract behind Canton Marketplace.
WellStar filed a formal objection challenging the state’s decision to approve the relocation project in September, but it was rejected by the state Department of Community Health in October.
While there are future plans to build other medical facilities on the site, Northside officials contend the relocation is sorely needed to replace its current 84-bed hospital. The new location will allow for more space to adequately care for patients, and the new facility will be 300,000 square feet, twice the size of its 150,000 square-foot facility.
The hospital campus will eventually include a women’s center, a multi-specialty medical office building and cancer center, a parking deck with 600 parking spots and a 300-spot surface parking lot.