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Hospitals settle bed battle

By Michael Davis

Southern Regional Medical Center announced Tuesday that it would be dropping an appeal that has held up Henry Medical Center expansion since last spring.

In March 2003, Henry Medical Center was awarded a Certificate of Need for a 91-bed expansion but the next month, Southern Regional and Tenet Healthcare, which operates Spalding Regional Medical Center in Griffin, appealed. They claimed the expansion would negatively impact their operations.

Tenet dropped its appeal last week, and after a groundswell of community support for HMC, Southern Regional agreed that HMC would bring on 71 beds when its $73 million expansion is complete. The expansion would bring the hospital's inpatient capacity up to 215 beds.

HMC president and chief executive officer Sam Ahern said Tuesday that the agreement would allow the hospital to build the five-story expansion with room for 91 beds, but operate 71 at first.

"We had to suspend preparation efforts 10 months ago when the appeals began," Ahern said.

Adding the 20 beds later would not require HMC to apply for another Certificate of Need, Ahern said, but the agreement provides that more beds would only be added when the hospital gets to 75 percent capacity, considered by healthcare officials to be a maximum efficiency level.

"We appreciate the tremendous community support that we have received and are grateful that we can now turn our energy toward making the project a reality," Ahern said.

Southern Regional Medical Center president and CEO Ed Bonn said the agreement was reached Tuesday morning and will have to be ratified at a joint meeting of the board of directors of both hospitals. He said he expects to officially drop the appeal by Thursday.

"I'd say it's a tribute that two community hospitals can sit down and negotiate (through) their differences to meet the needs of their communities and their respective hospitals," he said. "We never disagreed that expansion and addition of more beds was needed for the growth of Henry County, we just disagreed on the numbers based on an old planning formula and a new planning formula."

Ahern said the architectural and financial plans were put on hold because of the appeals, but they can now move forward. He said construction should start some time in the late spring or early summer and the hospital is anticipating a summer 2007 completion date.