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GMC submits objections in open-heart appeal

LAWRENCEVILLE - In response to a hearing officer's decision to nix its open-heart surgery program, Gwinnett Medical Center has filed its objection with the state's Department of Community Health.

Officials said there are errors in the state hearing officer's decision that could prevent the hospital from establishing "a desperately needed open-heart surgical program" in Gwinnett County.

The medical center applied for a Certificate of Need for the program in January 2008 and received approval from the DCH five months later.

Area hospitals were given an opportunity to file opposition, and three - Piedmont Hospital, Emory University Hospital and Emory Crawford Long Hospital - did just that.

After a February hearing on the matter, a Certificate of Need Appeal Panel hearing officer reversed the original decision.

It is now up to the DCH commissioner to make the final administrative decision, which is expected by July 17, hospital officials said.

"We believe the Department's original approval of an open-heart program at GMC was the correct decision," said Phil Wolfe, GMC president and CEO. "This filing counters points cited in the appeal decision, and will hopefully clear the way for us to bring this critical service to the people of Gwinnett."

Wolfe said further appeals are possible. The process, he said, allows parties to seek court review within 30 days of the final administrative decision.

Wolfe added that he hopes it doesn't come to that.

"While we look forward to ultimately securing open-heart through the administrative appeal process, GMC is prepared to seek judicial review if necessary," Wolfe said. "If the commissioner reinstates our approval, we would hope that Piedmont and Emory would not further delay our program by seeking judicial review."