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Hospitals appeal open-heart again
Piedmont, Emory sue to block Gwinnett Medical from starting program

LAWRENCEVILLE - Two area hospitals continue to oppose the creation of Gwinnett Medical Center's open-heart program, filing a lawsuit on the last day they could legally do so.

According to reports, Piedmont Hospital and Emory Healthcare filed suit Monday in Fulton Superior Court, challenging state approval for the program initially granted by the Department of Community Health in June 2008.

Piedmont, Emory University Hospital and Emory Crawford Long Hospital appealed that decision, leading to a February hearing in front of a Certificate of Need Appeal Panel hearing officer. That officer reversed the state's original decision, temporarily nixing open heart in Gwinnett.

The hearing officer's decision was reversed five months later by the Department of Community Health commissioner, once again giving GMC the green light. The commissioner agreed with the state's original findings concerning traffic congestion and travel times from GMC to Atlanta-area hospitals that can pose problems for patients in need of open-heart services.

Phil Wolfe, GMC's president and CEO, said then that it was "disheartening" to have hospitals outside Gwinnett County oppose the program.

He said Tuesday that the two hospitals obviously aren't interested in what's best for Gwinnettians.

"It doesn't seem to matter to Piedmont and Emory that the people of our community, and the physicians who treat them, have voiced unwavering support," Wolfe said. "Piedmont and Emory's objections have been heard and rejected. This court action is unnecessary ... the bottom line is Piedmont and Emory are choosing a course of action that puts lives at risk."

Dr. Manfred Sandler, director of cardiology, called the action a "total disregard for patient care" that is based solely on money and politics.

"It is about greed and inhibiting progress of care that is absolutely necessary," Sandler said. "They are trying to delay what will happen inevitably so they can prepare to solidify their base elsewhere in Fulton County and others."

While Sandler said support from the community and Gov. Sonny Perdue will ultimately prevail, the delay will still prove an inconvenience and liability.

"We still have to build operating rooms and are not about to do that just to have some judge to tell us we can't do it. It doesn't make sense," Sandler said.

Sandler believes there is little chance the two hospitals will do what's right by him: Put their pride aside and withdraw all appeals.

"That won't happen," he said. "We will prevail but after this they can go to appellate court and that would be it. With this lawsuit, it could be months before initial proceedings."