BRASELTON — Nancy Christensen ambled through the spa-like, high-tech halls of the Imaging Center Braselton on Thursday night, stepped in an exam room and stared briefly at the ceiling.
Directly above the table, where patients may be accustomed to looking up at tiles the color of dingy Styrofoam, panels displayed a placid image of limbs and leaves back-lit by something resembling a blue sky.
"This is gorgeous," Christensen said. "It makes you almost want to come. If you’re here, you’re here for some medical problems or a mammogram. But the atmosphere inside the room is what makes it so wonderful."
Christensen, who lives across the street at the Villages at Deaton Creek, was one of several hundred area residents, physicians, hospital staff and other medical professionals who attended the grand opening of Medical Plaza 1 at River Place.
The 119-acre medical community is part of a South Hall development by Northeast Georgia Health System on Thompson Mill Road designed to serve Hall, Gwinnett, Jackson and Barrow counties.
Much of Medical Plaza 1 has opened over the past few months. Urgent Care Braselton opened in September. Outpatient rehabilitation, lab services and several physicians’ offices opened in the fall.
The new imaging center, offering state-of-the-art medical imaging technology, including a dedicated space for women’s treatment, opened Monday.
The center includes an "Ambient Experience MRI" developed by Philips, along with a "KittenScanner," a scale model of a scanner where pediatric patients can scan toys as a calming, educational exercise prior to their procedures.
With special lighting and interactive tools, the center is designed to lessen patient anxiety over what is often a 45-minute procedure.
The technology is the first of its kind in the Southeast and what will become a "show site" for other hospitals, said Debbie Duke, director of Imaging Services at NGHS.
While the event showcased the imaging center, prospective patients were able to tour all three floors of the medical center where several doctors’ offices and medical services have moved from temporary offices across the street.
Dr. John Buchanan is a sports medicine physician with Advantage Sports Medicine who recently made the move.
Buchanan said he typically treats area high school athletes from Mill Creek, Apalachee and Winder-Barrow high schools. But he also sees a range of patients from 2-year-olds who break their legs on trampolines to 82-year-old short stops — from across the four county area.
"I would say (patients come from) most of Flowery Branch, Hoschton and the Gwinnett side, Dacula, the Hamilton Mill area. It’s kind of a potpourri. And they range in age from cradle to the grave."
Many of the practices at Medical Plaza 1 are staffed on a rotating, or "timeshare," basis by physicians who also practice in Gainesville and other nearby cities. Some may be in Braselton several days a week, while others see patients a few hours one day a week.
One of the doctors who has moved his practice to Braselton is Dr. James Jackson, medical director of Greater Braselton. Jackson is also a Braselton native.
Jackson, who practiced in Gainesville for 16 years before moving to Northeast Georgia Physicians Group’s Braselton Clinic, said while the community has changed dramatically since his youth, the growing area has been very supportive of the "one-stop" medical facility.
"The patient can come here and get most of their treatments done in one place," he said. "It’s very convenient for the patient."
The facility’s choice of location has also been a source of contention between NGHS and Barrow Regional Medical Center in Winder.
River Place is also the site of NGHS’s planned 100-bed hospital in South Hall called Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton.
Although the Department of Community Health approved the project, Barrow Regional has challenged NGHS’s certificate of need for the new hospital, arguing it would pose a threat to the Winder facility.
After the issue spent much of last year tied up in court, in December, Superior Court Judge Robert Adamson ruled in Barrow’s favor. NGHS appealed the ruling to the Georgia Court of Appeals, which agreed in late January to hear the case. The court is expected to hear the case later this year.