New Peach hospital to open to patients in July

wcrenshaw@macon.comMay 3, 2013 

BYRON -- A day that many in Peach County have long waited for is drawing near.

The new Peach Regional Medical Center is almost complete, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house scheduled for 9 a.m. June 13. Patients will move there from the old hospital in Fort Valley on July 16.

The long-delayed construction started a year ago after the Peach County Hospital Authority formed a partnership with The Medical Center of Central Georgia to operate it through a lease agreement.

Elbert McQueen, vice president of Central Georgia Health System, the umbrella corporation of the Medical Center, said a certificate of occupancy is expected to be issued in about three weeks.

If it were just about any other type of building, he said, they could start moving in then, but hospitals have additional licensing and certification requirements, and the equipment will have to be thoroughly tested.

Construction has gone well and is a little ahead of schedule, McQueen said. Many people were working inside and outside of the building as he gave a preview tour Tuesday.

“We are racing to the finish,” he said.

The 63,361-square-foot building will be about 15,000 square feet larger than the current one. But perhaps most important, it will represent a dramatic upgrade in equipment and technology, particularly in the operating room.

Equipment already has been moved into the operating room, including a video system with recording capabilities, so surgeons can see an enlargement on a screen.

At the current hospital, only minor, outpatient surgeries are done. Although major surgeries won’t be done at the new hospital, it will be able to accommodate many more types, such as hip and knee replacements.

That should reduce the waiting times for surgeries at the Medical Center in Macon, he said, because Peach County residents currently are having those kinds of surgeries there.

Asked to summarize how big of an upgrade the new operating room is, McQueen paused for a moment.

“I’d say it’s like going from a Rambler to a Mercedes,” he said.

Landscapers were busy Tuesday putting in plants, sod and an irrigation system. The landscaping budget was increased significantly to get larger trees and plants.

Once construction started in May 2012, community support grew, McQueen said, and about $1 million has been raised in donations for additional items not originally budgeted. That includes a large water fountain out front and a better CT scanner, which is expected to arrive next week.

The current hospital has a two-slice scanner, but the new one will be a 64-slice. Basically, McQueen said, that means the new scanner will be able to detect smaller tumors and anomalies the old scanner would miss.

Hospital employees, who haven’t had a raise in more than three years, had a goal of donating $75,000. They gave $150,000.

The hospital will mean a job boost for Peach County. The current facility has 110 full-time employees, and that will jump to 160 in the new hospital.

The $28 million facility will have 25 beds, the same as the current hospital. When the Medical Center took over its operation, it was averaging four overnight patients per day, but now that is up to 18. McQueen doesn’t think it will be a problem keeping the new hospital filled, in part because of the expanded ability to do operations.

The current hospital averages 30 emergency room visits per day, McQueen said, and if people need to be admitted they often are sent to Macon. But with more abilities at the new hospital, he said, more of those patients will be able to stay in Peach County.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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