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Open-heart decision reversed
Hearing officer rules against GMC establishing surgery program

DULUTH - A hearing officer has reversed the state's decision to allow Gwinnett Medical Center to proceed with establishing an open-heart surgery program.

Phil Wolfe, president and CEO of GMC, announced the reversal at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce's general membership luncheon meeting Wednesday.

Gwinnett Medical Center applied for a Certificate of Need for its open-heart program in January 2008 and received approval to move forward with the program from the Department of Community Health in June 2008. As part of the state's review process, other hospitals were given an opportunity to file opposition, with Piedmont Hospital, Emory University Hospital and Emory Crawford Long Hospital appealing the DCH's decision. A hearing before a Certificate of Need Appeal Panel hearing officer was held in February in which all parties presented their cases.

GMC learned Tuesday that the hearing officer had reversed the Department of Community Health's decision to allow the hospital to move forward with its program. GMC plans to appeal that decision, asking the commissioner of that department to reinstate its original approval of the program. The commissioner is expected to make a final administrative decision by July 17.

Despite Tuesday's decision, GMC anticipates opening its open-heart program in 2011.

"We're very hopeful that they will reaffirm their earlier decision," Wolfe said. "We look at this as a speed bump. However, it is disappointing and we are concerned about the fact that Emory and Piedmont, who do less than 25 percent of the total hearts that are done from Gwinnett County, would be able to stand in the way and either delay or even derail what we think is absolutely essential for us to have in Gwinnett County."

"In my opinion, it's not a matter of if we get a heart program," Wolfe said, "it's a matter of when we get a heart program."