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Guest Column, Ron Quinn: Healthcare – Our Region’s Newest Golden Egg
Ron Quinn.jpg
Ron Quinn

A statue with a life-size chicken, a pocket park, and a water tower all pay homage to Gainesville as the Poultry Capital of the World. Maybe someday we should erect a giant stethoscope in equal appreciation of our local healthcare industry – the next generation cornerstone in our increasingly diversified economy.

It was poultry that rescued our cotton-based economy in the early 20th century from a boll weevil infestation and the Great Depression. Still a heavy hitter today, poultry processors and support businesses employ more than 14,000 in Hall County with an overall $6.27 billion economic impact.

However, with more than 500 medical facilities in Hall County and 16,000 professionals (15.2 percent of our total workforce), healthcare has become the next great golden egg for our community. There is no specific data on the combined economic contributions of all medical providers in Hall County – such as private physician practices, Longstreet Clinic, and Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Center – but a 2020 study by the Georgia Hospital Association estimated a positive financial impact of over $3.5 billion alone for the Northeast Georgia Health System across our community and state.

The success of our local medical community certainly is not contained within the borders of Hall County. Similar to our historical roots as a trading center at the crossroads of Mule Camp Springs, we are a regional healthcare hub serving more than 1.6 million people across Northeast Georgia – and likewise a catalyst for the advanced specialty practices based here as well.

Healthcare clearly has emerged alongside poultry as one of our economic pillars with plenty of upside growth potential. Georgia economist Jeffrey Humphreys states that the continued growth of Gainesville’s medical sector will make us even more suitable for retiree-based economic development while boosting per-capita incomes. It also is a big driver for new industry moving here.

One look across our horizon is all it takes to confirm healthcare’s promising future here. You can’t miss the huge cranes building a third Medical Center tower in Gainesville, two more stories for patient beds at the hospital’s South Hall location in Braselton, and multiple medical plazas and urgent care centers across the region.

The expansion is not just in new construction but also in a new generation of doctors. In addition to heavy physician recruitment, we are developing our own home-grown base of young docs with the state’s largest community-based Graduate Medical Education (GME) program.

We can thank Hall County native son Nathan Deal, who served as Georgia governor from 2011 to 2019, for inspiring GME. Concerned that Georgia was losing too many talented medical students to practices in other states, Gov. Deal set a goal of adding 400 residency slots across the state. It’s only fitting that his hometown hospital is leading the way with over 200 residents and fellows across seven specialties – contributing an initial $66 million economic impact followed by another $18 million annually.

Less talked about, but just as significant, is the recent creation of the local health system’s Northeast Georgia Health Ventures, a medical entrepreneurial program that may be laying the groundwork here for a Silicon Valley of healthcare innovation.

This exciting program opens the door to the development of new medical inventions and protocols created in the real-world working labs of our local hospital’s operating rooms, nursing stations, physician practices, and emergency departments. This program is a two-way street that benefits NGMC patients as well as fostering medical advancements that could potentially reach across the world.

While I have focused on the economic pluses of our area’s progressive healthcare system, I would be remiss not to point out the most important beneficiary is our own personal health. We are blessed to be within a stone’s throw of a medical community that very likely is unmatched for any city or county our size, anywhere.

Which is why – whether it’s a pending recession or a common cold – we’re all much better off living in the medical foothills of Northeast Georgia.  

(Ron Quinn, president and CEO of Peach State Bank & Trust, serves as the Georgia delegate for the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) and is former chairman of the Community Bankers Association of Georgia).