Chestatee Regional Hospital could become home to several medical programs of the University of North Georgia in the coming years.
Gainesville-based Northeast Georgia Health System announced on Friday, March 30, that it was moving to buy the property in Dahlonega this year. The hospital’s current owners bought it for $15 million in 2016, and the Friday announcement revealed the two groups had reached a conditional agreement to sell the Dahlonega hospital.
Should the sale go through, Northeast Georgia’s plan for the property isn’t to operate it as the primary hospital in Lumpkin County. Instead, the hospital system is considering building its own facility outside of Dahlonega city limits on 57 acres at the end of Ga. 400 about five miles away from Chestatee Regional.
The system’s plans for Lumpkin County “will include evaluating the possibility of a newly constructed facility on that property,” said Louis Smith, president of acute and post-acute operations for NGHS, in the Friday announcement.
But that leaves Chestatee Regional Hospital near downtown Dahlonega available — and it’s less than a mile from the edge of the UNG Dahlonega campus.
It’s no surprise then that UNG is looking to get into the hospital.
“We do have interest in that. We have large demand for our health care education programs,” said Kate Maine, chief of staff at UNG’s Dahlonega campus. “We have nursing, physical therapy and counseling programs at the Dahlonega campus.”
The popular programs have a limited amount of space in the historic North Georgia university campus — an opportunity presented by the Chestatee Regional sale doesn’t come along often.
As a result, state lawmakers added cash into the 2019 budget to allow UNG’s Dahlonega campus to purchase the hospital from the Northeast Georgia Health System. The budget still needs to be signed off on by Gov. Nathan Deal and the purchase of the property would need to be approved by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.
“Pending all of that, we expect that transaction to be completed sometime in the next few months,” Maine said.
While a transaction would be sorted out on paper, it would be “at least a couple of years before UNG would occupy that space” given the needs of both Chestatee Regional Hospital in its current state and the goals of Northeast Georgia Health System.
“We are still very, very early in the planning stage of this,” Maine said, “and trying to envision what that looks like in the future.”
Should all the pieces fall into place, adding the hospital to the UNG campus would be a huge addition to the health education programs and clinics in Dahlonega.
“I was happy to support the funding of this acquisition in the state budget to enable UNG to expand and grow its health care programs on the Dahlonega campus,” said state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, who also serves as executive director of Lumpkin County’s Development Authority. “The community has been anxiously awaiting this day, and we look forward to working with NGHS as they develop their plans for the future.”