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Ratchford gets more time in current space
Warren Ratchford (standing) addresses hospital authority lawyer Michele Madison (not pictured) while negotiating lease changes during Wednesday's meeting in Kieffer Hall at Effingham Hospital. Authority member Richard Raftner (seated left) and Effingham Hospital CEO Fran Baker-Witt (seated center) listen. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

SPRINGFIELD -- After further diagnosis, the Hospital Authority of Effingham County granted Effingham Medical Partners LLC more time to operate at its current location.

During a joint meeting with the Effingham Hospital Inc. board Wednesday night, the authority approved a 24-month lease for Dr. Joseph Ratchford and Dr. Prakash Patel to continue practicing at 449 Ga. Hwy 119 South. Ratchford is making plans for a new office on Hwy 21 near the Clarence Morgan Complex but it won't be ready until 2019.

Last November, after lease negotiations broke down, the authority notified Ratchford and Patel that they would receive only a six-month offer, drawing an angry reaction from many Effingham Medical Partners patients. Previously, the lease rolled over each year, ending every October.

At a December authority meeting, nearly 100 Ratchford supporters asked, some tearfully and some angrily, to reconsider their decision. They strongly defended Ratchford and said forcing him to move his office to Rincon would cause them undue hardship.

After the December meeting, authority legal representative Michele Madison and Ratchford's attorney, his brother Warren Ratchford, worked out a lease agreement. Madison told the crowd the authority heard its concerns and took them to heart.

During Wednesday's meeting, the authority even agreed to tweak the new deal in Ratchford's favor after hearing suggestions from spectators. He can opt out early if his new office is completed in fewer than 24 months.

"The power of the people is phenomenal, for sure," Dr. Ratchford said immediately after Wednesday's meeting. "We appeciate the support and we are very glad we could work it out."

See the Jan. 17 edition of the Effingham Herald for more details.