With Chestatee Regional Hospital in Dahlonega preparing to close its doors at midnight on July 27, there may be some worry among Lumpkin County residents about where they'll get emergency medical care.
There's a conditional agreement in place for Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS) to purchase the Chestatee property and some equipment, but that purchase may not be final before the hospital closes.
To that end, NGHS announced last week that it increasing access to Urgent Care services and stabilizing primary care in Lumpkin County.
According to press information, starting Sunday, July 1, Urgent Care Dahlonega is extending its hours to be open 8 a.m. – midnight, seven days a week. The office, located in front of Home Depot, at the intersection of GA-400 and Highway 60, treats minor injuries and illnesses for people aged six months and older. The location is already projected to care for more than 16,000 patients this year, according to the press statement.
“We anticipate seeing more people coming in for care after work and when accidents happen later in the evening, and our staff is prepared to care for them,” said Tammy Soles, the administrative director for Urgent Care Dahlonega.
Meanwhile, Northeast Georgia Physicians Group (NGPG) Dahlonega Internal Medicine recently welcomed a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner – Raymond Polk and Vicki Simmons – to the group. Polk and Simmons previously worked at Dahlonega Family Practice until its recent closure.
“We’re thrilled we are able to keep these talented providers in Lumpkin County,” said Tina Walden, vice president of Operations for NGPG. “Primary care is the foundation of wellness and preventive health care for a community, so preserving that access is key.”
“Roughly 37 percent of Lumpkin County EMS patients were taken to Chestatee Regional Hospital in 2017, and we believe a number of those patients could have been appropriately treated in a different setting – like an urgent care center or primary care office,” said Chris Dockery, chairman of the Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners. “Increased access to those services will definitely help people in this community get the care they need, and the timing couldn’t be better.”
Louis Smith, president of Acute and Post-Acute Operations for NGHS said he is optimistic the agreement to finalize the purchase of the Chestatee property will happen at some point in July.
“Once the current owner closes the hospital, we estimate it may take as many as 12 months to assess what is needed to re-establish high-quality healthcare services in Lumpkin County," Smith said.
Options for re-establishing services include possibly opening some services in the current hospital building; potentially building a new facility on 57 acres NGHS owns near the intersection of Highway 60 and Georgia 400; or exploring other ideas that meet the needs of the community.
“We’re still open to all possibilities, and we look forward to continuing to work with Lumpkin County leaders and the community to envision the short-term and long-term future of health care in this area,” said Smith.
The University System of Georgia Board of Regents and NGHS have finalized an agreement for the Board of Regents to purchase the hospital property from NGHS later this year. The agreement calls for the Board of Regents to lease the property to NGHS for up to three years. At some point in the future, the University of North Georgia will likely relocate some of its programs and services to the current hospital property.
“Given the many challenges facing Georgia’s rural communities, this is a rare win-win for ensuring access to health care and educational opportunities for generations to come,” said Carol Burrell, president and CEO of NGHS.
In addition to the Urgent Care center and two NGPG primary care practices, NGHS currently provides other healthcare services in Lumpkin County including:
- Women’s care through NGPG’s OB/GYN practice
- Cardiology care through The Heart Center of Northeast Georgia Medical Center
- Physical rehabilitation services through The Rehabilitation Institute.