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Fight brews over Cherokee hospital | News

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Fight brews over Cherokee hospital

CANTON, Ga. -- Thursday morning, 11Alive News received a press release titled "Wellstar seeks to block Cherokee County residents from getting a new hospital." And so, the fight begins.

In one corner, Northside Cherokee Hospital. Their current hospital sits on Hospital Road, hidden up a hill behind businesses. It was built in 1962. There have been numerous renovations (including some current work in the lobby right now), but there's really no way around it: it's old.

The new state-of-the-art facility would be right off of I-575 and Ga. Hwy 20. It's less than three miles from its current location. Because of that proximity and the fact they are not increasing the number of beds, Northside Cherokee skips much of the complicated and lengthily process required for new hospitals. In 2008, the Georgia legislature passed a new law allowing for exemptions of the certificate of need (CON) review.

State Senator Jack Murphy said, "The fact that two Wellstar hospitals that are not located within Cherokee County would seek to clock the citizens of this county from having a new, state-of-the-art hospital and medical campus is quite concerning." He also told 11Alive News, if needed, he is ready and willing to start writing letters in support of Northside Cherokee.

In the other corner of the fighting ring is Wellstar Health System, Inc. They refused 11Alive's request for an interview, and also refused to answer any questions. They did release this statement:

"On September 1, WellStar Health System filed a letter with the State of Georgia regarding Northside Cherokee Hospital's proposed replacement facility in Cherokee county. Instead of going through the more rigorous Certificate of Need application process, Northside Cherokee instead filed a Determination Request based on a Relocation Exemption from CON. WellStar believes that Northside Cherokee Hospital has failed to provide sufficient information and documentation to support its request for an exemption."

A quick look at a map explains some of the motivation behind the fight. The current Cherokee Northside is off of exit 16 on I-575. The new hospital would be one exit south, less than three miles away. Just south of the Cherokee County/ Cobb County line, sits two Wellstar Hospitals: Kennestone Hospital and Windy Hill Hospital.

11Alive News asked Northside Hospital spokesman, Russ Davis, if the dispute was all about competition. "You'll have to ask Wellstar about that. Our goal is to provide a better facility for our staff, patients, and the community."

Northside says to take advantage of the exemption, they will keep the size of their hospital at 84 beds, but the move does provide room for future growth. Northside Cherokee would then have to go through the complete CON process.

There's another element to the fight: the baby business. Northside Hospital has become known as THE PLACE to go to deliver your baby. In the way St. Joseph's specializes in heart surgery and Grady is building a reputation as a stoke center, Northside specializes in women's services. But spokesman Russ Davis says Cherokee Northside doesn't really do that many deliveries; nowhere close to the numbers at Kennstone Hospital.

Unlike most hospital visits, many parents shop their delivery location ahead of time. The look and feel of a new hospital can make a difference. Those choices can add up to serious business. Right now, Wellstar is spending $25 million to renovate its Kennestone campus.

Northside Cherokee says the law is on their side, and they're convinced a 2015 opening date will happen. The state's Department of Community Health will make a decision about Wellstar's objections by November.


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