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Hundreds visit new hospital tower
Selah Murawski, 9, of Oakwood watches the arms of the da Vinci Surgical System move in a demonstration during an open house Sunday for the North Patient Tower. The robot makes it possible for the surgeon to work within tighter spaces than the human hand can reach. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Ron and Lisa Shepley started their tour from a corner window on the sixth floor, looking into the distance at the North Georgia mountains.

They were impressed so far in their visit to Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s massive new hospital building, the $180 million North Patient Tower.

“One thing ... is the architectural beauty of it, the aesthetics, all the artwork,” said Ron. “I should ask Carol if I could get a week’s reservation here.”

He was referring to Carol Burrell, Northeast Georgia Health System’s chief operating officer, and Lisa’s sister.

Hundreds of people turned out Sunday afternoon for a three-hour open house of the complex, weaving through hallways, operating and patient rooms, and visiting areas that provided a panoramic view of the Gainesville area and beyond.

The new wing features 96 surgical beds, 32 intensive care unit beds, a waiting room for the Ronnie Green Heart Center and 23 operating rooms and post-anesthesia care units.

Because of the crowds, parking was a chore for early visitors, with the line streaming from Downey Boulevard and winding through the 738-space parking deck.

As visitors streamed into the North Tower from the first-floor entrance facing Downey, they entered a lobby where outside light poured from every direction, including the glass atrium several stories above their heads.

The first 500 families visiting the new Love Light Garden received a free tree seedling.

Volunteers greeted visitors with souvenir bags and other information, including maps. They also were stationed at various points throughout the complex, helping guide visitors along to several points of interests.

Some stops drew throngs of people, including the da Vinci Surgical System, which features surgeon-controlled robotic arms.

In the intensive care unit, Anthony Alexander, operations manager for respiratory care services, demonstrated how a device on the bed enables a hospital worker to talk to a patient who doesn’t speak English.

Common questions such as “Are you hungry?” or “Are you feeling pain?” can be translated into 13 languages at the touch of a button.

“They are questions that are pretty much ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or (patients) can point to certain things,” Alexander said.

People also toured an outdoor garden and other attractions inside, including the cafeteria (where free food was available), a library resource center, gift shop and the Dawn McKibbon Memorial Chapel.

Visitors also walked through the Hall of Honor, a special section off the main entrance of the new tower that pays tribute to the hospital’s donors.

Ellen DeFoor, coordinator of the Medical Center Foundation, said she was impressed by the new building.

“I think it’s phenomenal, it’s extraordinary and there are some features ... that are not anything that you’re going to see at any other facility, certainly in this area,” she said.

Now the big job — filling up those empty spaces — lies ahead.

Some areas of the older South Tower are being vacated and renovated to make room for the Lanier Park patients, and all of the surgical patients from both campuses are being moved into the North Tower, officials have said.

Ambulances from the hospital’s medical transport service will move patients from Lanier Park in phases, gradually emptying six intensive-care rooms, about 40 surgical beds and another 40 medical beds.

Most of the moves will take place during the third and fourth weeks of April.

The surgical departments could be moved later this week.

By the end of this month, Lanier Park will no longer offer any acute-care services. Eventually, its hospital rooms will be converted to a nursing home and rehabilitation center.

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