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South Hall hospital plans call for gardens, trails, retail
Facility expected to employ 500 people
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It sounds more like a description for an idyllic community than a hospital.

But Carol Burrell, Northeast Georgia Medical Center's chief executive officer, says the facility slated for construction on Ga. 347 will be "far more than a hospital surrounded by parking lots."

Beyond its 100 beds, the South Hall hospital will have "neighborhood amenities" such as walking trails, retail shops and possibly even a farmer's market, Burrell said, speaking Thursday to the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce's board of directors.

Also in the plans for the hospital is a "broad expanse of green spaces, complemented by intimate gardens" to surround the new facility as well as "breathtaking views of the lake and foothills."

Here, nature will be a part of the healing process.

"Sound futuristic? It's here. It's what we're about," Burrell said.

Hospital officials, in the midst of a yearlong planning process, have lofty technological plans for the new facility, too.

When it opens in March 2015, the South Hall hospital will be paperless: all medical records will be kept electronically, Burrell said.

Already, hospital officials have nailed down a construction manager and an architect.

Over the next six to eight weeks, officials will design the "patient experience" of the new hospital.

Hospital officials are seeking to use what Burrell called "lean principles" to eliminate unnecessary steps, ease patient flow and increase time spent between the patient and clinical staff.

The planning comes after a yearslong legal battle with Barrow Regional Medical Center, which operates a 56-bed hospital in Winder, over the need for another hospital in the area. Northeast Georgia Medical was granted the certificate of need in September of last year.

County taxpayers are backing the project by way of a $200 million pledge of bond support should the hospital not be able to pay its construction bills.

The pledge helps to reduce the interest rates on the loans for construction of the hospital. Tony Herdener, chief financial officer for Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said it is unlikely that money will ever be needed.

"What this means is that our interest costs will be significantly less, which means that we will be able to reinvest $17 (million) to $18 million back into this community into technology and services that otherwise would be going somewhere else in this country," Burrell said.

"It also allows our own local folks to be able to invest in something that they feel a part of, and it will be very much theirs."

The hospital will be the first new hospital in the state in some 25 years. Once it is open, the hospital is expected to employ 500 people.