A hospital that’s not wheelchair-
accessible? Seems like a contradiction. But that’s the way things were back in 1951, when the hospital that eventually would become Northeast Georgia Medical Center was built.
On Monday, the medical center erased the last vestige of that era. After being closed since last year due to construction, the original main entrance was reopened — minus the two flights of stairs that made it difficult for people to get inside unless they used an adjacent ramp.
"The steps are gone," said hospital spokeswoman Cathy Bowers. "They raised the grade seven and a half feet. Now you can drive right up to the main entrance and drop somebody off, just as you can at the ER."
For months, the emergency room served as the temporary main entrance to the hospital, creating some confusion and inconvenience for visitors.
"We had a lot of temporary signage and volunteers to help direct people," said Bowers. "But the information desk is back at its original location now."
Lorena Collins, a hospital volunteer who was working at the information desk Monday, said both employees and visitors seem to be pleased with the change.
"We’re glad to be back," she said. "People are commenting on how pretty it looks."
The entire area has new carpeting, and automatic glass doors have replaced the old front doors that often were difficult to open.
The main entrance is on the west side of the medical center facing Jesse Jewell Parkway, to the left of the ER and to the right of ongoing construction on the Women & Children’s Pavilion.
That addition is expected to open later this year. When another major construction project, the North Patient Tower, is completed next year, the main entrance will be shifted east to face South Enota Drive. The current main entrance will then be referred to as the South Entrance.
Aside from easier access, there is another benefit to the refurbished entrance, according to Bowers.
"Now you can get to the Walters Auditorium directly from the front entrance, instead of having to go through the Outpatient Services Building," she said.
The auditorium, used for lectures and seminars, always has been located below ground level, between the ER and the main entrance. But people had to take a circuitous route to get to it.
Now there’s a staircase and elevator immediately to the right of the front door, taking people down to the auditorium’s lobby. Collins said folks had been wandering down the steps all day, just to marvel at the new construction.
"The auditorium is much handier now than it was the other way," she said.