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Gainesville clinic celebrates 60th anniversary
Rita Gooch has her blood pressure checked by Robin Taylor during a routine visit to Dr. Sean Sumner, left, at the Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic.

Photographs and one particularly interesting artifact — a ledger showing expenses from 1953 — helped tell the story of Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic’s 60 years in Gainesville.

But nothing quite conveyed the history like the ones who lived through those years, including founding physician Dr. Henry Jennings, who gathered Monday for an anniversary celebration and luncheon.

“Time passes fast,” said Jennings, who cut the first slice from a white-icing cake baked for the occasion.

Jennings, now in his 90s, and others shared stories of that long-ago era, a time when Gainesville had 22 practicing doctors, compared to some 500 today, and a 92-bed hospital with the beds “half empty.”

“If I had a real bad sick patient over there at night and he was getting lab work and all, I’d find an empty bed and go to sleep and let the nurse come in and give me the report,” he said. “I’d go back to sleep instead of going back and forth to home.”

Dr. James Butts, who began Gainesville’s first dedicated oncology practice, said the hospital had a numbered “light system” that communicated to staff which doctors were on duty.

“I was No. 44, the same number as Hank Aaron,” Butts said. “We’ve lived through paging, pagers and now cellphones.”

He and others around him, including another original employee, Geneva Evans, chuckled.

Evans served as a technician at the clinic, but she wore several hats.

“If there was a hole in the carpet, she’d fix that,” Butts said. “And that’s the truth.”

Before founding the clinic, Jennings was practicing at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

He “felt that the time was right to establish an internal medicine practice, offering exceptional specialized care in Gainesville, which was then poised for growth,” according to the clinic’s website.

The clinic began in a small renovated house on East Broad Street, then moved to a small office with four providers. It now occupies 52,000 square feet of space in the Guilford Medical Complex at 1240 Jesse Jewell Parkway in Gainesville.

Northeast Georgia Diagnostic has had a series of firsts over the years, including the area’s first cardiologist in Dr. Warren Stribling, and Dr. Neil Kelley introducing pulmonary function testing to Gainesville, the clinic’s website states.

Also, Dr. Sam Rauch established services related to nephrology, or medicine dealing with the kidney, which included dialysis management and transplant referrals.

“There’s a lot of history in this room,” said Dr. Sean M. Sumner, whose practice includes hypertension and thyroid disease. “We’re standing on the shoulders of giants, some people who did a lot for this community.

“We are every day grateful for their good words and the training that we got.”

He recalled the late Dr. Sam Poole, who served as first medical director at Good News Clinics, which provides free medical and dental care to uninsured residents who can’t afford health care.

“He would always give me a lesson when he came in the room,” Sumner said.

Poole told him “to make sure you’re doing a good job on everybody every day. Those are words to live by, and I think, what the (clinic) stands for.”

The clinic now has grown to 225 employees.

“Things have changed a great deal, but this is still a good place to be proud of,” Sumner said.

Jennings, who retired in 1987, is pleased at the clinic’s ongoing work.

“As far as I can see, they’re still doing a very good job,” he said. “I still go to a doctor (there).”

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