GMC open-heart surgery program: Piedmont pulls out of lawsuit

LAWRENCEVILLE - After more than a year of opposition, Piedmont Hospital has given up its fight to block the creation of an open-heart surgical program at Gwinnett Medical Center.

In a media release, Piedmont spokeswoman Diana Lewis said the hospital has decided to accept the decision made by the Department of Community Health in June 2008, granting GMC the Certificate of Need.

She added, however, that Piedmont stands by its motives for appealing the decision in the first place. The hospital, she said, has endured "attacks" and "accusations" that are "just not true."

"From the beginning, Piedmont has opposed this new program because of the impact on quality patient care - no other reason," the statement reads. "We want what's best for people in Gwinnett and we still believe that means accessing the high quality open-heart program at Piedmont or one of the other existing programs in metro Atlanta."

Regardless, GMC President and CEO Phil Wolfe was happy to hear the decision.

"First of all, let me express my appreciation to Piedmont for taking this important action, which is in the best interests of the many Gwinnett County residents and their families who would benefit from access to an open-heart surgery program much closer to home," Wolfe said.

It appears as though Emory Healthcare, which also filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court to block the program, is standing firm in its position.

Spokesman Lance Skelly said Wednesday a statement released last week from Emory still stands. In part, that statement said Gwinnett residents already have sufficient access to open-heart programs in metro Atlanta and northeast Georgia.

Additionally, he said, a recently approved therapeutic balloon angioplasty program at GMC eliminates the need for open-heart.

"It is important to note that less than 2 percent of all heart attack cases actually require emergency open-heart surgery," Skelly said.

Wolfe said Piedmont's decision to drop its suit is promising, but with Emory's suit still in place, it could still be a long road to open-heart in Gwinnett.

"We can only hope that Emory will now reconsider its own position and follow Piedmont's lead," Wolfe said.