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NGHS plans ‘neighborhood hospital’ for Lumpkin in 2021
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People attend a meeting Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, concerning the new Northeast Georgia Medical Center Lumpkin in Dahlonega. - photo by Megan Reed

When the Northeast Georgia Health System was talking with people in Lumpkin County in 2018 about what they wanted from their community hospital, locals said they wanted nearby access to the most common services they would need.

As one person said, “It doesn’t have to be big. It just needs to be good.”

The new Northeast Georgia Medical Center Lumpkin in Dahlonega, set to open in fall 2021, will follow the “neighborhood hospital” model, which has gained traction in the past decade by offering an efficient alternative to larger hospitals. Neighborhood hospitals meet the need for emergency and acute care in rural or growing areas.

NGHS has worked with Kevin Meek, executive vice president at SitePoint Healthcare Partners, to apply the neighborhood hospital model in Lumpkin.

“We’re going to build the right size hospital to provide the right amount of services to the right folks at the right time in the right place,” Meek said.

Hospitals need to be customized for the populations they serve, Meek said. “It can’t be just that one box, one solution, drop it in.” Neighborhood hospitals usually have about 15 to 30 inpatient beds and are about 35,000 to 60,000 square feet.

The new hospital, which is scheduled to break ground this summer, will be at the intersection of Ga. 400 and Ga. 60 in Dahlonega.

While the design for NGMC Lumpkin has not been finalized yet, plans are to start with about 15 to 20 beds, with some room to grow. The current location has 10 inpatient beds with room to expand.

“That facility has to be able to expand. It has to be able to grow, and it has to be able to continue to meet the needs of the community,” Meek said.

A floor plan has not yet been developed, but a sample was displayed at the meeting that showed the emergency department, as well as the inpatient rooms and surgery section, placed along the edges of the building so they could be expanded if needed. The hospital will not have a trauma center or a higher-level intensive care unit, but patients could receive initial treatment and then be transferred to another hospital for more intensive care.

The health system has been hosting community forums where people can learn more about plans for NGMC Lumpkin, and Thursday’s event was at Northlake Baptist Church in the Murrayville area.

For some in North Hall, the new NGMC Lumpkin could become the closest hospital to their home. For example, Northlake Baptist, near Lanier Elementary School, is 6.8 miles from the Lumpkin hospital site but 9.3 miles from NGMC Gainesville.

The NGMC Lumpkin campus will have a medical office building on site. 

The hospital is looking forward and gauging interest in certain technology options that could be included. For example, if a specialist is not available in Lumpkin, patients could potentially go to the hospital campus, check in with staff who would take their vital signs and then video conference with a specialist. 

It would also be possible to have physical therapists check in with patients by reviewing data from wearable technology such as a Fitbit or a smart watch, if the patient chooses.

The hospital is seeking feedback from the community before making decisions about whether to include such options.

NGHS has been operating a temporary location for NGMC Lumpkin at the former Chestatee Regional Hospital building on Mountain Drive since July 2019. Chestatee Regional closed in July 2018, leaving Lumpkin without a hospital for a year. 

The University of North Georgia has plans to use the former Chestatee Regional facility for its health sciences programs when NGHS relocates. NGHS is leasing the property from the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.

NGHS is hosting one more forum about NGMC Lumpkin on Friday, Jan. 17 at Babyland General, 300 NOK Drive in Cleveland. The event starts at 6 p.m.

This article has been updated from its original version, which was unclear about what's possible and what's currently in the plans in regard to a floor plan and technology.