-Dahlonega hospital to reopen this summer
The old hospital on the hill has a new pulse.
A little more than six months after Chestatee Regional Hospital closed its doors, officials at Northeast Georgia Health System announced a sweeping plan to revitalize and reopen the downtown facility in July of 2019 while beginning preparations for a new replacement hospital down the road on Georgia Highway 400.
“I would say our prayers have been answered here today with what’s happening,” said Senator Steve Gooch at a roundtable interview with local leaders and hospital officials on Monday. “This hospital we’ve had in the past has had trouble. It’s had ups and downs, but we’ve never had the quality provider that we’re going to see come into this community.”
That provider is the group responsible for Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.
As a result the reopened hospital will be renamed Northeast Georgia Medical Center Lumpkin, or NGMC Lumpkin for short.
“We will be bringing back emergency services, in-patient capability and out-patient imaging,” said Louis Smith, president of Acute and Post-Acute Operations for NGHS.
The ultimate plan will be a shift to a 57-acre Lumpkin County stretch near the intersection of Highway 400 and Highway 60 which was purchased by Northeast Georgia Medical System several years ago.
“The new facility is tentatively scheduled to open in 2022 and expected to provide emergency services, inpatient medical/surgical care, imaging services and a focus on outpatient surgery,” stated a release from NGHS.
URGENT CARE NEEDS
Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners Chairman Chris Dockery said the development couldn’t have come at a better time as the community has sorely missed an in-county hospital
“We hear it a lot,” he said. “There is concern, especially from emergency services.”
He said a lack of a local facility has resulted in more than $21,000 worth of extra fuel charges as ambulances often travel to Gainesville or Cumming.
Dr. Donna Whitfield said she’s seen the need as well from her patients.
“We frequently see older people that will not drive to Gainesville,” she said. “I’m ecstatic…Having lost a hospital and now to have those services back is the best thing that could have happened to me this decade in terms of healthcare.”
NGHS representative Sean Couch said they’ve listened to these needs over the past few months through a series of focus groups and surveys of local community members.
“They were all speaking from the same script. It was one unanimous voice that was telling us ‘We need emergency care and we need it now,’” he said. “…And it was important that there be a true hospital service here.”
Gooch said he believes the eventual Highway 400 development will bring more than medical care to the area as he predicted it would “prime the pump” for future development.
“I call it a game changer for the 400 corridor,” he said. “People ask all the time, why don’t we have a grocery store. Why can’t we get more retail? More restaurants? I believe this one decision to build a new hospital on that 57 acres will provide a domino effect of more commercial development in that corridor that includes pharmacies, restaurants, grocery stores, more housing and more community development.”
It will also bring new jobs, according to Smith.
“Right now we’re projecting 76 positions,” he told The Nugget.
The old hospital is currently owned by the The University System of Georgia Board of Regents, which will lease the property to NGHS until the new facility is ready for business.
Once the future medical complex is open, the university will most likely phase the old hospital into learning classrooms for students in the health care field.
“We could not be more ecstatic with having a new [healthcare] campus,” said Dr. Bonita Jacobs president of the University of North Georgia. “… We see this as a terrific, terrific opportunity.”
Dockery said the joint project is the result of the county, city, university and healthcare officials all working on the same page.
“It’s a win-win-win-win,” he said. “As many wins as you want to say for everybody.”
NEW NAME, NEW HOSPITAL
In the meantime, work has already begun on NGMC Lumpkin to make way for the summer re-opening which will keep the Certificate of Need authority in place to operate a hospital in the county.
Hospital officials acknowledged that they will have to combat the reputation of the former hospital that had suffered in the eyes of many locals.
Dockery said community buy-in is crucial for the success of the facility.
“The success of this hospital could very easily determine the success of our community,” he said. “I think that’s a fair statement.”
Dahlonega Mayor Sam Norton said he hopes potential patients will realize that there is a new staff running the operation.
“The community needs to come back and realize this is not the old hospital,” he said. “This is Northeast Georgia Medical Center which has a great reputation of caring for the community. If we’re willing to drive there to Gainesville surely we’re willing to drive to Crown Mountain.”
Chief of Emergency Medicine Dr. Mohak Davé said he feels confident his staff is ready to serve Lumpkin County’s medical needs when the doors open in July.
“We have to continue to earn that trust every single day and every hour that our facilities are open,” he said. “For us that’s the challenge. There’s a lot of expectations. And we want to exceed those. And I”m very confident we will.”