Piedmont Hospital opposes open-heart application

In February, Southern Regional Medical Center filed for a certificate of need with the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) to acquire permission to perform open-heart surgery on the premises. This week, Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta announced its opposition to the move.

According to Georgia DCH Spokesperson Lisa Marie Shekell, Piedmont Hospital formally filed an opposition motion on Tuesday. Next month, the DCH will conduct an opposition meeting, in which representatives from Piedmont Hospital will have the chance to state their reasons for opposition, she said.

"Piedmont Hospital filed a ‘Notice of Opposition to Project Under Review' to this project yesterday," Shekell said in an e-mail on Wednesday. "In order to be able to appeal the outcome of this decision, any party that wanted to oppose it had to do so by the 60th day of the CON [certificate of need] review process, which was yesterday.

"Filing the Notice of Opposition does not impact the timeframe for the department's review of the project," she continued. "The decision is due out on June 19, 2010. The department will hold an opposition meeting no earlier than the 90th day of the review cycle, in which Piedmont must present its substantive reasons for opposing the application before the department."

In a statement released by Piedmont Hospital on Wednesday, hospital spokesperson Diana Lewis said officials at Piedmont believe having another open-heart surgery program in the metro area would have a negative impact on service in the region.

"While Piedmont still needs time to review the application in detail, the same concerns exist regarding any new open-heart surgery programs opening in the greater Atlanta area," Lewis said. "Numerous studies have shown that quality is higher and mortality rates are lower when hospitals perform high volumes of open-heart procedures," said Lewis. "Adding another open-heart program to the number that already exists in the Atlanta area will dilute volumes across existing high quality programs, thereby impacting quality and mortality rates.

"In addition, Lewis said, "the limited pool of available specialized physicians, nurses, perfusionists and other healthcare would be further diluted, having [a] detrimental impact on existing quality programs and all Georgia residents."

Lewis said Piedmont Hospital performed 960 open-heart procedures in 2009. She added that the hospital has not lost a patient during a valve surgery since February 2009 and has not had a heart-bypass mortality within the past 12 months.

Since 2006, Southern Regional has been one of the few hospitals in the Southern Crescent to offer angioplasty procedures, but has yet to receive permission from the DCH to perform open-heart procedures.

Ron Dodson, chairman of the Southern Regional Board of Directors, expressed outrage at Piedmont Hospital's opposition, saying that the hospital "brazenly put their bottom line and their business interests ahead of the health-care needs of an undeserved population.

"Last year alone, more than 500 residents of the Southern Crescent required open-heart surgery, and every single one of them had to go into downtown Atlanta to get it," Dodson said. "Barely a fourth of those patients went to Piedmont. Far and away, the largest number went to one of the two Emory hospitals, who are now supporting our application.

"Piedmont Hospital's decision to oppose Southern Regional's proposal to provide open-heart surgical services should be cause for outrage throughout the Southern Crescent," he added. "The bottom line here is that a Buckhead hospital wants to dictate to the 850,000 metro Atlantans who live south of [Interstate] 20 that they should continue to have to fight their way through Atlanta traffic to receive this critical, life-saving surgery."

DCH's Shekell said the state agency has not set a date for Piedmont Hospital's opposition meeting, but said it "would not occur before the 90th day of the review cycle, which would be on, or around, May 19."