EXCLUSIVE: AU Health CEO details plans for new hospital in Columbia County

Thursday, July 1st 2021, 7:16 PM EDT

COLUMBIA COUNTY, GA (WFXG) - It’s a battle that’s been years in the making: who will gain the rights to build the first hospital in Columbia County. Earlier this month the Georgia Supreme Court made the final decision, granting it to Augusta University Health System.

AU Health was originally awarded the Certificate of Need in 2014 and ever since that approval local hospitals have been challenging the decision. That is until now. AU Health System CEO Katrina Keefer is excited about the plans for the new facility in Columbia County. 

“The Georgia Supreme Court, for the second time on June 1, said that they would not hear the case again which cleared the way for us to build the facility," Keefer said. “100 bed hospital, level 2 trauma center, and look forward to serving the patients of Columbia County,” she said. 

She says they plan to keep the level one trauma center in Downtown Augusta. It is the only hospital with that designation in our region. Level 1 trauma centers are specially equipped to handle the most severe injuries. Outside of AU Health you have to go to Atlanta or Macon to one. 

A level 2 trauma center, which this facility will be, initiates care and has the resources to handle most cases, but the most severe are sent to level 1 centers. The only other level two in our area is Doctor’s Hospital.

By opening this facility, AU Health hopes that it will help alleviate over crowding at their Downtown facility.

“There were days that during the COVID peaks in January that we had an extra 142 patients that were COVID patients. That therefore put pressure on our emergency department and our units," Keefer said. "So we really feel like moving 100 beds from this facility to a new space. Will allow us to alleviate the emergency department overcrowding and give us some room in our facility upstairs in med-surg units and ICUs.”

What made AU Health choose Columbia County? Keefer says it was an easy decision. 

“Columbia county is one of the fastest counties in the state and certainly the largest county that doesn’t have a hospital," she said. "So much is growing to the west of Augusta on I-20. So many exciting things are going on there in the industrial park." 

So how much longer will Columbia County residents be without a hospital? AU health hopes to have it completed within four years.

“Yes we expect it to be a four year time frame. That was originally envisioned in 2014 to be a four year project. We still think that that will be the appropriate timeframe for this project," Keefer said. 

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