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Southern Regional withdraws open-heart surgery bid

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

After several months of making a case, Southern Regional Medical Center has dropped its bid to have an open-heart surgery program at the hospital. The health system announced late Wednesday that it had withdrawn its application for a certificate of need (CON) from the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH), to provide the medical service.

Earlier this year, officials at Southern Regional submitted the application to the DCH on the premise that no hospital between downtown Atlanta and Macon offers open-heart surgery to its patients. In February, Southern Regional Board of Directors Chairman Ron Dodson said that in 2009, nearly 600 residents of the Southern Crescent had to bypass Southern Regional to receive open-heart procedures at hospitals in Atlanta.

In April, Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital, which offers open-heart surgery, formally opposed Southern Regional's application for permission to perform the same services.

Since 2006, Southern Regional Medical Center has been one of the few hospitals south of Interstate 20 to perform angioplasty procedures, according to hospital officials.

A press release, dated Wednesday, from Southern Regional, said the hospital has "withdrawn its application for a certificate of need to provide open-heart services in order to address additional questions from the Georgia Department of Community Health" and that the hospital is "in the process of evaluating feedback from DCH and will make a determination about how to best proceed in the near future."

In an issued statement, Southern Regional President and CEO Steve Mahan described the withdrawal as a "setback."

"The Department of Community Health has certain concerns and questions that we were not able to address, prior to the June 19 decision date," said Mahan. "We made a judgment that the best way to keep the process moving was to withdraw the current application, and then take time to address issues identified by the department ... We did not have the opportunity to address the Department's concerns at this time. We believe in the need for this service, and want to best position ourselves to bring open-heart surgery to the Southern Crescent."

On Thursday, a reporter with the Clayton News Daily called Southern Regional to inquire about the concerns identified by DCH, but a spokesperson from the hospital said the statements issued in the press release were all the hospital would say on the subject, at this time.

DCH Media Relations Manager Joye Burton said that, "When an applicant withdraws their application from further review, there is no decision issued," and as such, "the Department does not issue any comment about it, or issue any formal statement about what the decision would have been, if one had been issued."

Burton said the hospital will have until July 22 to resubmit its application, during the current cycle.

Dodson said he thought the hospital had a "strong application" and was "disappointed" by the withdrawal. "The people of the Southern Crescent should be disappointed because it leaves us with no open-heart surgery south of I-20, before you get to Macon," he said. "We had more than 2,000 letters of support. They were from Clayton County, Henry County, Fayette County, Butts ... all over. If we decide to re-file, we have 30 days to re-file. We have attorneys involved. They [the hospital CEO and the attorneys] will be the ones making that decision. If we don't feel like it is doable at this time, we will rebuild our case at a later date."