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Hall to double support of hospital bonds
Medical center officials ask for more help
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Hall County officials are close to a deal with Northeast Georgia Medical Center to increase the county’s support of a future hospital in South Hall.

Already, the county has pledged $100 million in bond support if Northeast Georgia Health Systems cannot pay debts on construction of the future hospital.

But hospital officials approached the Hall County Board of Commissioners this week, asking them to double their support.

The increased support, according to Commissioner Craig Lutz, whose district includes the area where the hospital will be built, will help hospital officials get a lower interest rate on loans for construction of the hospital.

Commissioners are expected to vote on a revised contract today that, in the event the Hospital Authority defaults on its loans, the county will be on the line for.

Tony Herdener, chief financial officer for Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said it is unlikely that money will ever be needed.

“It’s a self-supporting debt, so as the health system generates cash flow, that would be the first line of payment, and there’s reserves on the balance sheet — that would be next. And then there’s a designated, trustee-held debt-service reserve fund that would be a year’s worth of debt service,” Herdener said. “So there’s plenty of moats, if you will, around the castle to protect the bondholders.”

The South Hall hospital will be the first new hospital in the state in some 25 years, said Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s Chief Executive Officer Carol Burrell.

“All eyes are on our community,” she said.

Hospital officials are beginning a yearlong planning process on the new hospital, which will be built on Ga. 347.

The planning comes after a yearslong battle with Barrow Regional Medical Center, which operates a 56-bed hospital in Winder, over the need for another hospital in the area. Northeast Georgia Medical was granted the certificate of need late last year.

Plans will include an intensive care unit, emergency room and general surgery, but other services have not been determined.

“Knowing that we have this commitment from the county helps us to better be able to plan for the services that we need in that area, knowing what the support is going to be,” Burrell said.

Construction on the hospital is supposed to begin sometime next year.

Once it is open, the hospital is expected to employ 500 people, Burrell said, as well as 50 physicians and 240 support staff for the physicians.

“The local economic impact is primarily the jobs and the payroll dollars, and those are dollars that stay in the community,” Burrell said.

Upping the county’s support, Burrell said, “confirms the community’s support for the hospital” and its future economic impact.

The increased bond obligation likely will sail through to passage at today’s commission meeting. Commissioners individually praised the project at a work session Monday.

“We are real excited in South Hall to see this project come about,” Lutz said. “...This particular intergovernmental contract is basically just a lift of what we the county are helping back, as far as bonds go.”

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