Representatives from Northside Hospital and WellStar Health Systems were each given 30 minutes to discuss their case. A decision on the plan is expected later this month.
Last week, the Holly Springs Planning Commission recommended approval to the council.
WellStar has said it plans to build a health park, 100-bed hospital and hospice facility to service Cherokee County on the 62-acre site on Sixes Road at Interstate 575.
The health park, a facility with on-site imaging, physical therapy and labs, would come first with the hospital following — likely within the next seven to 10 years. The hospice facility would come when needed.
Representatives from Northside, which is fighting the plan, questioned WellStar’s intentions for the site Monday night at the public hearing, calling them unclear.
Northside is building an 84-bed hospital at Exit 19, just a few miles north of the proposed WellStar facilities.
“We believe that WellStar always wanted to close the hospital, and siphon the patients to Cobb,” Northside representative Doug McDonald told the council. “Northside is committed to providing services to the citizens of Cherokee County.”
Another Northside representative, Robert Rozier, said he worked in the Georgia Department of Community Health five years.
Rozier said he served first as staff council overseeing Certificate Of Need issues, then as executive director of health planning, and was the final decision maker at the department level as to whether a CON should be granted.
Rozier focused on two points: he said it’s highly unlikely WellStar would develop hospital plans under current CON process in Holly Springs and second, that it is unlikely the CON rules will change in the foreseeable future.
Rozier said all hospitals are reviewed under a need calculation that is determined by a 10-mile radius to determine how many hospital beds located within that radius and the utilization of the beds.
Rozier said since CON program established in 1979, DCH has never approved a hospital within 10 miles of an existing hospital. Northside Hospital-Cherokee is about six and a half miles from the Sixes Road location, he said.
Rozier added that Northside Hospital-Cherokee could expand beyond 84 beds by obtaining a CON.
He also questioned a requested 10-year extension for WellStar on a Conditional Use Permit from the city.
“The CUP and the rezoning permit not only allow WellStar to build a hospital… but also build a ‘similar institution.’” Rozier said.
Rozier said that last week, WellStar told the planning commission if it could not build a hospital, it would come up with some other undefined service.
“Whatever WellStar devises in the future could be something that none of us have contemplated,” Rozier said.
Richard Calhoun, speaking on behalf of WellStar, said he wanted it made it clear that WellStar was there to deal with a zoning case on the 62 acres at Sixes Road and Interstate 575.
“We wouldn’t be buying the 62 acres to put a health park on if we didn’t expect to put a hospital on the site of it as well. Your conditional use encourages uses to be grouped and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun said that there are now 45 conditions on the property that make in unfeasible to build a medical park, and that were designed for an outlet mall, which was originally slated for the property.
“If it’s so difficult to get a free-standing emergency department… then it really shouldn’t be a concern on Northside’s part or anybody else’s part. We just ask that the door be left open for some future time and if it turns out that the free-standing emergency department would be a good thing to have there, we could obtain a certificate of need if they’re required at that time,” Calhoun said. “That leaves the door open for WellStar to come in and file an application for a permit, and if it’s granted, build a free-standing emergency department.”
Rozier said the free-standing emergency department could be built and suggested taking out “other similar uses” from the added zoning condition.
“There’s no telling if you approve the ‘other similar uses’ (condition) what could be built there in the future,” Rozier said.
WellStar has said they will build a health park on western side of the site. Rozier said this is contrary to their intention to build a hospital.
“WellStar’s health parks are alternative to hospitals; they don’t coexist with hospitals,” Rozier said.
Don Hausfeld, another representative of Northside, said the two key ingredients to a hospital are access and water, and questioned traffic in the area.
Hausfeld said Northside hired an engineer to do a traffic study of the area.
“The conclusion of that is that this project… is going to generate 36,711 trips per day. That is an increase from the original transportation study of over 10,000 cars per day,” Hausfeld said, referring to studies done when the bridge over I-575 was widened and the aquatic center was planned a few years ago.
Hausfeld said Northside’s traffic counts were taken beginning six weeks ago.
Council member Karen Barnett asked for a copy of the traffic study. Hausfeld said he would be more than happy to compare notes if WellStar produced its own traffic study to present to the city. He offered to show it to her personally but not for the record.
“I think your city ordinance is very clear that the burden of proof is on the applicant that they can provide the services,” Hausfeld said
Hausfeld said an initial study was submitted Dec. 27, 2004.
“Sixes Road and the traffic that it takes is a whole lot different today than it was in 2004 and certainly than it was in 2008,” he said. “The projection of feeder roads shows they will be at capacity and there will be substantial delays on the on-ramps and off-ramps.”
Calhoun disagreed with Northside’s assessment, and said traffic counts have been looked at, and that WellStar traffic, if all of the planned development is built including the hospital, would be a peak of 459 trips in the morning and 510 in the afternoon.
“This is considerably less than what has already been approved and sanctioned by the state,” Calhoun said.
Council member Dee Phillips said the 10 -year CUP with two-year increments after that provide no indication about building immediately.
“We’ve got our own thoughts, our own plans, and we’ve worked very hard as a council with the zoning, with the architecture, with everything, and just to hand someone an open-ended ticket, it’s just not something I myself feel comfortable with,” Phillips said, who said she was a registered nurse.
Several Cherokee residents, including Billy Hasty, chairman of the county’s hospital authority, spoke out against the development.
Hasty said he’s been with R.T. Jones Northside Hospital for over 30 years.
Dr. Austin Flint of Canton also spoke on behalf of Northside.
“If we work together, if we pull together, I think we all can be proud of the hospital that’s being built up the road just a couple of miles,” he said.
Libby Smith, a resident of the Falls of Cherokee, said WellStar has still not conveyed a consistency in its plans
“I want to know what’s going to be there, not in the first year, not in the next year, but in the next10 years,”
The City Council is expected to vote on the request at its March 18 meeting.