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Guest column: Why we need 2 new outpatient surgery centers in Braselton
Matt Hazzard, right, is a neurosurgeon with Longstreet Clinic who practices in Braselton and Gainesville. Brent Sharpe, left, is a urologist who practices with Georgia Urology in Braselton and Gainesville.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, many of us realized how much we took for granted our health and access to quality care whenever we needed it.

Starting in March, many of us could not easily access our doctors and had to resort to telemedicine appointments or postpone important medical procedures. Only recently is that becoming more available.

Unfortunately, with COVID outbreaks again on the rise, it is likely that hospitals will continue to need space in the foreseeable future to treat COVID patients and other life-threatening emergencies.

That leaves other patients wondering whether their access to care will once again be limited.

That’s why it is imperative for Georgia health care officials to move forward and approve the construction of two new outpatient surgery centers planned for our community in Braselton.

The state Department of Community Health will hold its final hearing this fall on a Certificate of Need application by Northside Hospital to open an outpatient facility on Friendship Road in South Hall. It is also considering one by Northeast Georgia Medical Center on Friendship Road.

CON is a state law that requires hospitals, doctors and health systems to get state permission before opening or expanding a new medical service. This regulation often infringes on the ability to provide more health care options for patients.

Each surgery center would provide much needed outpatient services in orthopedics, urology, gastroenterology, general surgery and neurosurgery. That means if a patient needed a knee replacement, or a gallstone removed or a colonoscopy, for example, it could be done at either surgery center, while leaving much needed beds available at the major hospitals for seriously ill patients.

Our community is growing rapidly, creating demand for both surgery centers. We have young athletes who have sports injuries that need repair and seniors who need hip replacements and cardiac procedures that could be done on an outpatient basis in a surgery center — without fear a local hospital may not be available due to COVID. These surgery centers would also be important to sustaining regional hospitals. When hospitals and doctors’ offices were closed to most services due to the pandemic, it cost the medical community dearly in revenue as health care accounts for 18% of the nation’s economy. With no elective procedures, hospitals across the country lost billions in revenue in

just one month alone. Health care systems in our region, including Habersham Medical and Northeast Georgia Medical Center, were forced into painful furloughs, job reductions and pay cuts for employees because they were focused on COVID instead of other services.

If local surgery centers had been open during the height of pandemic, hospital systems may have been able to generate revenue outside their main campuses to avoid the impact on patients and employees.

Northeast Georgia is rapidly growing and transforming from a rural community to a suburban and exurban area. New residents deserve a variety of health care options so they do not have to drive to metro Atlanta for outpatient surgery. And the Northside Hospital surgery center would be the first time Northside would be in the Hall County market, thus providing another choice for patients.

We know research shows patients are much happier and have better health care outcomes when they have more options and can receive treatment closer to home. They can also have better outcomes when they can rest at home immediately after a procedure. Outpatient surgical centers make that possible.

We believe that the state of Georgia has a duty to allow providers in the market to serve patients’ needs and that no state regulation — or pandemic — should stand in the way of that. Our patients’ lives depend on it.

Matt Hazzard is a neurosurgeon with Longstreet Clinic who practices in Braselton and Gainesville. Brent Sharpe is a urologist who practices with Georgia Urology in Braselton and Gainesville.

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