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Open-heart decision warrants your feedback

Perhaps you should begin your letter something like ...

"To whom it may concern:

"The official who ruled against Gwinnett Medical Center's open-heart program doesn't know his a-- from his aorta."

Just when Gwinnett Medical Center was poised to get the green light for its open-heart surgical services and celebrate the success of a long campaign, it was dealt a disappointing blow.

The hospital system received notice Tuesday that an appeal filed by opposing hospitals could prevent GMC from establishing an open-heart surgical program within the county. The notice came in the form of a decision from a Certificate of Need hearing officer assigned to hear the appeal filed by Piedmont Hospital, Emory University Hospital and Emory Crawford Long Hospital.

But all is not lost. GMC will take its case back to the Department of Community Health, the organization that originally approved the open-heart program in June 2008, and expects its application to be approved once again.

It's unclear what has changed between last June's approval and Tuesday's denial. All the reasons that GMC's open-heart facility was approved still exist. If anything, the need for Gwinnett residents to have access to local open-heart care is more acute as the county population grows.

Georgia's hospitals operate under a certificate-of-need system designed to prevent hospitals from adding a health-care specialty where adequate service already exists. This eliminates unnecessary and costly duplication of services among facilities.

But as GMC has accurately portrayed, other hospitals with open-heart services are not desirable destinations for the patients in Gwinnett. It's not an issue of quality, but of geography. These facilities are, especially in emergency situations, too far away. And more importantly, it is an issue of health.

Let us remind the hearing officer of the words of the Department of Community Health, which stated in its letter of approval:

"As Gwinnett County's traffic congestion continues to increase, the creation of an open heart surgery program at the center of the county significantly improves the ability of the residents of Gwinnett County to access timely care, thereby reducing heart damage and the likelihood of poor health outcomes."

You can help again with the local health system's campaign by contacting your elected officials from the governor to your legislators to city and county officials and solicit their help as the issue goes back to the DCH.

Whether you want to begin your letter as suggested above is totally up to you.

To continue to follow GMC's efforts of open heart, go to openheartgwinnett.org.

J.K. Murphy is publisher of the Daily Post. E-mail him at jk.murphy@gwinnettdailypost.com.