2009 will be a transformative year for Hall County’s medical community.
The countdown has begun for the spring opening of Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s $180 million North Patient Tower, which has literally rearranged the landscape of the hospital’s main campus.
From March through May, various departments will be moved to the North Patient Tower from the existing hospital building, and all of the patients at the Lanier Park campus will be moved to the main campus.
"The North Patient Tower will open over a period of about 90 days," said Jim Gardner," president and chief executive officer of Northeast Georgia Health System. "We’re not going to rush. There is no room for error. Things have to be done in sequence, and systems have to be tested."
The first unit to be moved will be orthopedic and neurological surgery, which currently is located in the main hospital’s 1 West wing.
"Ortho/neuro" will relocate to the fourth floor of the tower, which has six stories plus a basement level.
"We’re going to have to renovate part of 1 West so Lanier Park patients can move there," said hospital spokeswoman Cathy Bowers.
After the acute-care patients have been transferred, Lanier Park will eventually become a long-term care and rehabilitation facility.
All 426,000 square feet of the North Patient Tower will be devoted to surgery and related services. It will have 23 operating rooms, compared to 16 now. There will be 32 intensive-care beds and 96 medical-surgical beds.
When all is said and done, Northeast Georgia Medical Center will have a total of 557 beds in Gainesville, covering 1.2 million square feet of space.
That includes the new $50 million Women & Children’s Pavilion, which opened in November. It features state-of-the-art birthing facilities and a neonatal intensive care unit three times the size of the old one.
Visitors to the Pavilion have been surprised at how big the addition is. But "addition" is an utterly inadequate word for describing the Tower. Gardner thinks people will be stunned once they get inside and see the building’s vast corridors.
"In any other community, this would be the opening of a brand-new hospital," he said.
And it will have its own brand-new entrance. Soon, a traffic signal will be installed on Downey Boulevard (which becomes South Enota), east of the hospital. People whose destination is the Tower will come in from this direction, known as the North Entrance.
Those coming to the rest of the hospital will still approach from Jesse Jewell Parkway, now called the South Entrance.
Visitors to the Tower will be happy to know that the building has its own 738-space parking deck. Construction work during the past couple of years has made parking a scarce commodity on the main campus.
Workers are finishing up the Tower’s 62-foot-tall, skylit rotunda lobby, and they’re adding flooring, furnishings and equipment to the rest of the building.
Bowers said a grand opening event is scheduled for April 19, to allow the public to tour the facility. By June, all of the Tower’s departments should be operational.
The timetable is far less certain for Northeast Georgia Health System’s other major project, a new 100-bed hospital on the South Hall campus near Braselton.
Designed to be almost a mirror image of the North Patient Tower, the South Hall hospital was supposed to open by 2012. But a few weeks ago, a Barrow County Superior Court judge sided with a challenge from Barrow Regional Medical Center in Winder, denying a state permit for the new hospital.
Gardner said the health system will appeal the ruling, but no court date has been set.
He said even if plans for the hospital fall through, the health system will continue to have a strong presence at the South Hall site, with two medical office buildings, an advanced imaging center, and other outpatient facilities.
One of the buildings, Medical Plaza 1 at River Place, already is open for business and is drawing tenants from Gainesville physician groups who want to establish satellite offices in South Hall.
Mimi Collins, chief executive officer of the Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville, said by late summer 2009, the clinic will open offices at River Place for its obstetrics/gynecology, surgery, and orthopedics practices.
"We’ll also be reorganizing services (at the main Gainesville location on Jesse Jewell)," Collins said.
"We’re going to expand surgery and renovate orthopedics, which will share space with physical medicine and rehabilitation," she said. "And we’ll be moving most of our imaging to the first floor."
Northeast Georgia Health System also will be opening its own expanded imaging center, right next to the existing one on Sims Street, in the spring.