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Consultant: Expand medical college or face health care crisis
Brenau University examines opening medical school
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A private consultant is warning that Georgia’s only public medical school must undergo a massive expansion and open more campuses statewide to avoid a public health crisis in the next 12 years.

The report to the State Board of Regents calls for the Augusta-based Medical College of Georgia to increase by 455 students and open a campus in Athens in partnership with the University of Georgia. The report — written by the Pittsburgh, Pa.-based firm Tripp Umbach — also calls for clinical training sites in Albany and Savannah.

The report addresses an expected shortage of 2,500 physicians in Georgia by 2020, which could cost the state more than $5 billion each year in emergency room visits from patients with untreated medical problems. At least 1,500 of that shortage will be in already underserved areas.

"Georgia simply cannot stand still in addressing the state’s now critical need for doctors," system Chancellor Erroll B. Davis told the board.

Brenau University has contracted with Lexington, Ky.-based DJW Associates to study whether the university and the Gainesville-Hall County area can support a medical school.

Brenau president Ed Schrader has said the college will receive a draft report from DJW, then share it with Northeast Georgia Health System, a "major funder of the project."

"It looks like there will not be anything on this until after the trustees’ midwinter retreat (in late January)," said David Morrison, spokesman for the school, on Tuesday.

The Regents’ plan calls for $10 million from the state this year to develop facilities and hire faculty and administrators to run the new Athens campus. Over the next 12 years, the state needs to invest an additional $1.3 billion in operating expenses and $210.8 million for buildings.

Under the plan, the Augusta campus would increase its enrollment from 745 to 900, the Athens campus would hold 240 and Albany and Savannah’s clinical sites for third and fourth year medical students would have an enrollment of 30 each. Clinical sites could also be developed in Rome and Columbus.

Dr. Emery A. Wilson, principal in DJW, met with Hall-area physicians on Oct. 16 to talk about the local study.

At that meeting, Wilson said that Brenau might have to spend up to $35 million to start a medical school, but that the economic impact to the area could be at least $100 million.

Wilson gave hope to Brenau’s pursuits, pointing out several positives. He noted Northeast Georgia’s ever-growing population and the state’s need for more doctors.

He also praised Northeast Georgia Health System as a "major asset to this area," adding that it is "comparable to, or better than, most academic hospitals."