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NGMC Gainesville plans to add $500 million tower with helipad, at least 150 beds
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Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville announced Dec. 3, 2020, that it plans to add another tower to its campus, expanding its emergency department and adding other features, including a helipad. (Courtesy Northeast Georgia Health System)

A parking deck, a helipad and an expanded emergency department are just pieces of Northeast Georgia Health System’s plan for a new tower at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.

The health system announced plans Thursday, Dec. 3, for a new multi-story tower, which would go next to the existing north patient tower as early as 2024.

In a news release announcing the expansion plan, NGHS said the tower will allow them to move the emergency department to the tower’s ground floor and expand “to care for more people quickly and efficiently.”

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Dr. Mohak Dave, the chief of emergency medicine, said Gainesville’s emergency department is consistently one of the top five busiest in the state “and the demand for care has only continued to grow along with the region’s population.”

“We’ve continually added additional space to try to keep pace with the community’s needs, but high-peak times – like the current pandemic, flu seasons, etc. – strain our capacity and tax our resources,” Dave said in a statement. “We’re excited that the tower project gives us the rare opportunity to start with a blank slate and design a new space that better fits our workflows, is faster and more efficient for patients and staff and has more convenient access to pull in and park.”

Dave said they also hope to “modernize and innovate” to meet the needs of their patients in the emergency department.

NGHS set a new record Friday, Dec. 4, of 196 confirmed COVID-19 patients being treated while another 47 patients await test results.

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Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville announced Dec. 3, 2020, that it plans to add another tower to its campus, expanding its emergency department and adding other features, including a helipad. The above rendering shows the lobby of the planned expansion. - photo by Northeast Georgia Health System

According to NGHS’s data, 114 of those patients were at the Gainesville hospital, and another 42 COVID-19 patients were at NGMC Braselton.

As of Friday, there were 29 available beds across the Gainesville, Braselton, Barrow and Lumpkin campuses.

NGHS’ plan for the tower also includes a new helipad, more operating rooms, more than 150 new beds and a new parking deck.

“We’ve started referring to our future expansion and improvement projects as ‘Growing the Greater Good,’” Carol Burrell, NGHS president and CEO, said in a news release. “That phrase is a reminder that when we grow facilities to care for more patients and expand our clinical services, we’re ultimately reinvesting in the overall health of our region. Any time we add a new building, it’s a new place where we are helping people in many ways – whether it’s providing a new service, creating new jobs or simply lifting the spirits of a community.”

NGHS chief financial officer Brian Steines said they estimate the project’s budget will be between $450 million and $500 million.

RK Whitehead, chairman of the NGHS board, said the project's funding will come from operations, and the health system will also likely seek a bond through the Hospital Authority of Hall County and the City of Gainesville.

“Thankfully, the health system has been able to maintain our outstanding credit ratings, despite the pandemic, and this is a perfect example of why having a healthy financial position is so critical in today’s healthcare industry,” Steines said in a statement.

The health system has been looking at expanding the Gainesville campus for more than five years, Whitehead said.

"We're in a growing region, and the demand for bed space continues to grow," he said, adding that the hospital is more than 50 years old.

"Some of those rooms are still in use. Some of this will help replace some of that aging infrastructure," Whitehead said.

NGHS officials said the tower will also allow for “expanded and convenient access for advanced heart care,” which includes general and interventional cardiology, cardiovascular surgery and more.

“While we won’t rely on any essential funding through The Medical Center Foundation, we will likely have many signature gift opportunities to enhance the future tower,” Steines said. “We’ve certainly been able to improve past projects through the generosity of others, with examples like the Wilheit-Keys Peace Garden and Dawn McKibbon Memorial Chapel in Gainesville and The Courtyard Waterfall and the Rotary Flag Plaza in Braselton. The Foundation will share those opportunities as they’re available.”

NGMC public relations director Sean Couch said the current plan has infrastructure and utility work starting in 2021 and construction in 2022.

“Those timelines will be fluid based on other factors in the market, like the pandemic and whatever else may come, but we’re committed to growing for the future,” Couch said. “It’s too soon to anticipate what details we’ll need to work through to limit inconveniences for patients and visitors, but that planning will be part of the process.”

Reporter Megan Reed contributed to this report.