Lumpkin County will soon have its own hospital again, a change officials are embracing as they prepare for growth the new Northeast Georgia Medical Center Lumpkin could bring.
The Northeast Georgia Health System will open a temporary hospital at the former Chestatee Regional Hospital building in Dahlonega on July 16. The hospital will have an emergency department, some inpatient beds and imaging services.
Chestatee Regional closed in 2018, and NGHS expanded urgent care hours in Lumpkin to fill the void.
“We’re transporting our patients to the next-closest emergency room facility, which is in Gainesville or Cumming,” Dahlonega Mayor Sam Norton said. “There was definitely a void. We need that service, and we’re looking forward to it coming back to our community.”
But the facility at the former Chestatee Regional will only be temporary. The permanent NGMC Lumpkin, tentatively set to open in 2022, will be at the intersection of Ga. 400 and Ga. 60 on land the health system already owns.
While the Chestatee Regional site is in the city of Dahlonega, the permanent NGMC Lumpkin will be in the county. Officials there are preparing for developments to pop up around the hospital and are looking to Braselton to see how the growth played out there with the opening of NGMC Braselton.
“Our whole community is definitely seeing growth, but we believe that the natural growth will occur along that 400 corridor at that intersection at 400 and 60,” Rebecca Shirley, executive director of the Lumpkin County Development Authority, said.
The area also has easy access to Dawson and Forsyth counties, Shirley said.
The intersection is currently home to two gas stations, a Waffle House, a Subway restaurant, a strip of retail and a Home Depot. But if growth near the new hospital is anything like what Braselton has seen, people in Lumpkin can prepare to have new options related to more than health care.
Jennifer Scott, Braselton’s town manager, said more doctor’s and dentist’s offices, including new specialized medical practices, have come to Braselton to be near the hospital, which opened in 2015. It’s given people in the area more health care options but Scott said it has had another unexpected effect — more restaurants.
“Some of the national chains that we never had enough rooftops for now are locating here,” Scott said. “The Chick-fil-A (opened in 2018), LongHorn (Steakhouse) is under construction now, things that our citizens have always wanted but we weren’t big enough to attract.”
While the hospital sits just outside Braselton city limits, Scott said Braselton started seeing growth near the site when the hospital was approved by the state — years before it opened.
Shirley and other Lumpkin officials have traveled to Braselton to see the area and learn about how Braselton handled the growth. Braselton has zoning regulations over the area that help make the new buildings look more cohesive. Shirley said aesthetic regulations are also being considered in Lumpkin County near the future NGMC Lumpkin site.
Louis Smith, NGHS president of acute and post-acute operations, said when it first opens, NGMC Lumpkin will employ about 70 to 80 people. Staffing will be adjusted based on demand, and the health system will use foot traffic at the temporary site to help gauge how many permanent employees will be needed at the future hospital, he said.
NGHS is now preparing the Chestatee Regional site, with crews working eight to 12 hours a day, six days a week.
Recruiting of medical staff started in February.
“Our teams continue to evaluate former Chestatee Regional employees, consider requests from employees at other NGHS locations who are interested in transferring, and combing through new applicants,” Smith said in an email. “So far, we have hired more than 30 former Chestatee employees for a variety of positions throughout our health system.”
Positions at NGMC Lumpkin will include physicians, nurses, technicians, lab and pharmacy staff, environmental services and plant operations workers and security officers, Smith said.
Shirley said that some of the top industries in Lumpkin County include manufacturing and retail, and Mount Sinai Wellness Center, a rehabilitation facility, is a major employer. Now, health care could become a top industry in the county of 33,000 people that shares a border with Hall and Dawson counties.
NGHS is leasing the Chestatee Regional property from The University System of Georgia Board of Regents. The University of North Georgia hopes to eventually relocate some of its health sciences programs and services to the building.
UNG spokeswoman Sylvia Carson said the university is looking forward to having a hospital nearby again.
“We are very pleased about Northeast Georgia Health System reopening this facility, as it provides important healthcare services to the community, including our students, faculty and staff,” she said in an email.