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Medical center won't oppose Gwinnett heart surgery plans
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Northeast Georgia Medical Center officials say they don’t feel threatened by Gwinnett Medical Center’s bid to start an open-heart surgery program.

Gwinnett, which claims to be the nation’s most populated county without an open-heart program, wants to apply to the Georgia Department of Community Health for a certificate of need, which the state requires in order to create any major medical facility or program.

"We do not plan to oppose Gwinnett’s (certificate)," said Cathy Bowers, spokeswoman for Northeast Georgia Medical Center. "Though we do get a few patients from that area, Gwinnett’s population is large enough that they would mainly draw patients from within their own borders."

With more than 750,000 residents, Gwinnett accounts for nearly 10 percent of the state’s population, according to the Gwinnett hospital’s Web site.

Hospital officials say that it takes an average of 209 minutes to transfer a patient — more than double than the 90-minute window recommended by health officials to interrupt a heart attack.

The hospital has lined up the support of the county’s commissioners, school board and chamber of commerce as well as the backing of the city councils in Lawrenceville and Duluth. And the hospital has received hundreds of letters of support throughout the county.

Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s Ronnie Green Heart Center, which opened five years ago, treats patients mainly from the Northeast Georgia mountains region.

The Ronnie Green cardiac program has been rated No. 1 in Georgia for the past three years.

It could take a while for Gwinnett to obtain a certificate of need, which may face opposition from other Atlanta-area hospitals. Gwinnett officials have said even if they get state approval, it would be another three to five years before their cardiac program is operational.

The Associated Press contributed
to this report.