ELLIJAY, Ga – A fire broke out at 1975 Old Flat Branch Road yesterday, Dec. 6.
According to Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett, the fire had reached advanced stages when 911 was contacted and response arrived on scene. While residents fled the fire, one female was transported for treatment of smoke inhalation and is still hospitalized.
Having already increased in size and threat, fire fighters immediately began containing the blaze in efforts to prevent further spread through the woods and into other homes. However, damage to the house was already spreading and the structure was consumed as well as part of the woods around the house.
At this time the area is completely extinguished, Pritchett stated the workers on scene have cleared any hot spots in the area so no flare ups will occur. However, an investigation is ongoing into the incident as he states they have not ascertained the cause at this time.
With Piedmont’s recent ribbon cutting ceremony, FYN delved behind the scenes to take a closer look at some of Piedmont’s equipment and changes to the facilities as they move closer to opening their doors to the public.
During their Ribbon Cutting, Piedmont was welcomed into Gilmer County by Commission Chairman Charlie Paris stating, “We’re very thankful to have an ER coming into Gilmer County. In addition to health care considerations, there are a lot of cost savings that will apply…”
One of the biggest upgrades that Piedmont Mountainside CEO, Denise Ray mentioned during the ceremony was a 64-slice CT Scanner with a Double Injector function. This device replaces an older 16-slice scanner allowing for far better detail in the scans. The Double Injector is used during things like PE (Pulmonary Embolism) Studies. Nestor walked us through the aid this provides as the contrast dye is injected into patients needs to be immediately flushed.
The double injector allows the flush without requiring technicians to re-enter the room and provide the flush themselves. The upgrade from 16 to 64-slice also improves speed of the scan translating to patients as less time on the table.
Piedmont is also currently using a portable X-Ray machine in addition to its normal machine. This device can be moved into a patient’s ER room to take an x-ray and utilize that mobility to expedite care to its emergency patients. While Ike Ichite, Director of Imaging, stated the portable x-ray aids greatly in emergency care situations, he is still looking forward to a digital upgrade expected to come early next year. The digital upgrade would allow Doctor’s to quickly view the x-ray results bypassing to time to process the shots in radiology and being instantly accessed on screen of the machine.
The full digital images would also greatly increase image quality according to Jennifer Nestor. Having images of high quality instantly available will even further help doctors immediately respond to issues they find through the x-rays.
Also utilized at the local Emergency Department (ED) is the Ultrasound study. Usually utilized in blood studies such as DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis), blood clot, or gall bladder issues. This device rounds out the “big three” devices used in Piedmont’s ED.
As the new Emergency Department draws closer to opening its doors, greater attention is drawn daily as Ray even commented an expectation that all of Georgia will be focusing on Gilmer County to see if free-standing ER’s could be a solution to Georgia’s rural hospital problems.
State Speaker David Ralston, in attendance at the Ribbon Cutting, spoke on that subject saying, “The whole issue of Healthcare, particularly in rural Georgia, is very challenging. Over the last three or four years, we’ve had about fifteen or sixteen rural hospitals close in Georgia.”
Ralston jokingly continued saying, “I’ve been able to brag over the last month or two that I’ve got the only one that re-opened.”
However, that was not the only message Speaker Ralston brought to Gilmer County. Thanking the local community for their support in the transition and renovations to the ED, he said, “This whole fear of the clock, the Certificate of Need and the license that was going to expire, is over. It is over, that clock has been turned off.”
The central focus of that fear has been maintaining healthcare in Gilmer County indefinitely.
Piedmont is reinforcing its ED health care with additional support throughout Gilmer County through Medical Offices, local Doctors, as well as an imaging center and local lab, for blood draws and other outpatient studies, located in the Piedmont offices behind Wal-Mart.
These supporting offices will be connected to the ED through Piedmont’s Epic System. This integrated records network will allow for all admissions and care at the Emergency Room to be instantly accessible by Piedmont’s local Doctors as well as vice versa for Emergency Care Physicians to have instant access to the records of Piedmont Doctor’s patients for pertinent information such as drug allergies.
However, Piedmont did say that other Doctors will be able to tie into the Epic System as well. While Emergency Departments can access a Doctor’s Patient files through requests, the Epic System will provide instantaneous access to those reports and files providing an expedited process.
This Epic System will effectively connect the Piedmont “Community of Healthcare” that seems to have been growing in Gilmer County over the last year. State Senator Steve Gooch stressed the importance of healthcare and its growth in community when he said, “It is very important, not only for our health care, but for our economic development, our communities, and our children… We’re grateful to Piedmont for all their investments, millions of dollars that they’ve spent here in Gilmer County.”
Piedmont is also planning to continue their training and classes they offer through Piedmont Mountainside and are expecting to grow this effort through its growth into Gilmer County. Stay with FYN as we continue our series on Piedmont Healthcare and look deeper at some of their plans for Community Growth through classes, internships, training, participation with local entities, and even their hope for the future in the possibility of two acute-care rooms in the Emergency Department.
As citizens continue questioning ideas and plans for Gilmer’s future for a hospital, many have stopped questioning how to get a full hospital and are simply asking where the emergency room is?
FYN inquired with Piedmont Hospital about delays in the development and opening of their “Stand-Alone Emergency Room” in Gilmer County. Receiving an official statement, Piedmont responded by saying,
“In October, Piedmont Healthcare and SunLink Health System finalized a lease agreement that will allow Piedmont Mountainside to provide a free-standing Emergency Department in Ellijay. This would reopen the North Georgia Medical Center’s Emergency Department location, which was closed on March 1 by SunLink. Opposition to Piedmont Healthcare’s request to the State, which has now been resolved, delayed progress toward reopening the facility. Demolition is underway to prepare for renovations necessary to provide high-quality, patient-centered services for the Gilmer County community. The anticipated open date is mid-January.”
While many local authorities still harbor concern over the issue, many have resolved themselves to the Emergency Room option after the long battle for opposition. Additionally, Citizens, it seems, are also still holding reservations to see if the Emergency Room Project will last.
The City of Ellijay has joined the Board of Commissioners and the Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority in appealing the Georgia Department of Community Health’s decision regarding Piedmont’s Emergency Department and Gilmer County’s Certificate of Need. The vote came during last night’s City Council Meeting. The Council voted 4-0 with Lynelle Stewart abstaining from the vote stating she just didn’t know the effect this would have on the Emergency Department that is supposed to come to the county and she did not understand the issue.
Discussion also began in the public comments from several local business owners and citizens to consider allowing the sale of wine from local wineries during city events to fund 501c3 efforts and organizations. Sherryl Adams of Mountain Treasures began the conversation saying, “Ellijay is nationally known for its wine” due to publications like Wine Chronicles and national awards in competitions. She asked the council to consider one day event licenses to allow the sale at local events such as the 4th of July celebration, though Mayor Al Hoyle noted an ordinance change would not be able to pass before that event. Members of the council showed interest in listening to the ideas of potential change including David Westmoreland who mentioned options for one day licenses to include wine sellers while still considering the local businesses that sell beer, but wanted to support the charities via the 501c3.
Mayor Hoyle stated he would be consulting the city’s Alcohol Committee to consider the potential change.
After a brief discussion involving the property owner and a neighbor, the Council did vote 4-1 to rescind their Condemnation of the Johnson House in the City. Katie Lancey was the Council woman in opposition stating in the meeting she had not seen a specific plan or written document to guarantee the residence wouldn’t return to its previous state.
Financially, the City Council accepted the 2015 Audit as well as approved Budget Amendments to reflect the 2015 Actuals. After a presentation from Pamela Fox of the Marshall Insurance Agency and Barber Wilson and Chris Walker of J. Smith Lanier & Co, the Council approved the Property and Liability Insurance Proposal by Glatfelter Public Practice at $35,888 (p. 82). Check out the Audit and Financials as well as the Insurance proposals here.
One final note of the meeting came as the Mayor tabled the discussion for a vacancy in the Historic Preservation Committee due to a lack of nominations for the position.
Discussion has continued in this “watershed” situation as some citizens have described it.
Worry and concern over the loss of Gilmer County’s Hospital continues to grow as the June 23rd deadline approaches. Seemingly, the County as a whole has been coming together to discuss strategy and the path ahead.
Post Commissioner and Chairman of the Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority Travis Crouch has been hard at work on the issue, becoming a veritable champion to the cause, as he continues the go-between of the County Commissioners and the Joint Development Authority. However, more continue to rally together as the cities of Ellijay and East Ellijay are set to consider joining the appeal process with representatives already attending this weeks Commissioner’s Special Called Meeting.
The Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority met Tuesday, June 14, for a three-hour strategy session discussing options and consulting with a visiting attorney. Local Community members also attended the session to weigh in on their thoughts and ideas. Though they had already approved moving forward in the appeals process, the Authority took steps to decide how to progress involving potential legal action and possible hiring of legal representation for the process.
The meeting also spoke several issues the County will have due to the approval including disastrous effects on Gilmer County’s Economic Growth Efforts as well as the increase in response times the County is already suffering from and potentially having to exceed an hour for certain remote parts of the County to reach an actual hospital.
While the Letter of Determination includes Piedmont’s claim to be just under the Department of Community Health’s (DCH) $2,878,487 threshold to require a Certificate of Need Review, Crouch states they have not provided any documentation to the Greater Gilmer JDA to back up this claim. This estimated cost does not include the excess expenses the county will endure as they would be forced to bring people into the local Emergency Department and then immediately transport them to another facility for hospitalization. Many of these patients would likely be transported to Piedmont’s Jasper Hospital, a 52 bed facility that would be attempting to house patients from two counties that both had populations close to 30,000 in 2013, not to mention the growth experienced over the last three years.
The Greater Gilmer JDA was officially joined today, June 16, by the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners as they approved their “Letter of Support in Appeal to Georgia Department of Community Health on Approval of Agreement between Piedmont Mountainside Hospital, Inc. and North Georgia Medical Center.” The Commissioners also began discussion for their consideration for answers to funding concerns involving the new staff and equipment the County has been forced to muster in response to the hospitals closing and transfer of care to Jasper.
Chairman Charlie Paris stated he believe the consequences were too significant and the County had to appeal the process. He was echoed by Post Commissioner Dallas Miller who said is a critical situation, but also wanted copies of the appeal sent to state representatives including the Governor, Speaker of the House, Senator and even to Georgia’s US Representatives.
Chairman Paris went further to reassert himself again that his ultimate goal is to have a hospital with all its facilities in Gilmer County, and had no opposition to Piedmont itself, rather to the specific goal of a stand-alone Emergency Department.
Several others were in attendance of the Commissioners Meeting including, Ruth Ann Harding, Missy Ocobock, and Elaine Ballew, all previously employed at the hospital. These ladies brought for the communities concerns regarding the opening of an Emergency Department without a hospital. The ladies are being approached by older citizens asking, “What am I going to do? I can’t travel to Jasper or Fannin” raising concern for the 25% of Gilmer’s population who fall into that age group of 65 and older.
Crouch also noted to citizens, “I think people feel helpless and hopeless… Don’t.” Crouch continues to offer hope to the citizens in the response of other potential healthcare providers very interested in the purchase and maintenance of a full facility hospital. New information provided in the JDA’s meeting also gave hope that a purchaser of the Certificate of Need could actually build into a new facility in certain areas or potentially any area of the County.
However, both Crouch and Attorney Stanley Jones of Nelson Mullins stated the fight for the Certificate of Need requires the citizens help. Marshaling the public opinion is key to this effort. The public can become involved, and potentially be the key to winning, by joining the efforts.
You can contact your State Representatives below or follow the link to a petition started in support, “Save Gilmer County Certificate of Need“.
State Senator Steve Gooch – (404) 656-9221
Speaker of the House David Ralston – 404.656.5020 or 706.632.2221
Governor Nathan Deal – 404-656-1776
BKP speaks with Post 2 Commissioner and Chairman of the Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority Travis Crouch about Gilmer’s situation with a hospital and Certificate of Need.
Contact your state officials about this issue at:
Phone: (404) 656-9221
Washington DC Phone: (202) 225-9893
Gainesville Phone: (770) 297-3388
Atlanta – (404) 656-5020
Blue Ridge – (706) 632-2221
Department of Community Health
Rachel L. King (404) 657-7198
Executive Directer, Office of Health Planning
After letters of opposition were submitted in February, the Department of Community Health has finally issued its reply on election day, May 24th. The decision by the Department of Community has moved the Letter for Determination forward in its process pending several issues.
Wednesday, May 25, saw the Commissioners in a special meeting to talk about Piedmont CEO Greg Hurst asking for a Letter of Support from the Board. At the time the Board had not been given notice of the Department of Community Health’s reply. While the letter was never written, the Dept of Health went ahead with its confirmation in spite of several letters of opposition including the Board of Commissioners, the Ellijay City Councils, East Ellijay, the Board of Education, and the Joint Development Authority. In fact, the letters of opposition were only mentioned once in the reply and only in a single sentence stating, “Opposition to the project was received by several independent parties.”
During the meeting, Chairman Charlie Paris discussed the intentions of Piedmont as stated by CEO Hurst, was to operate the new stand-alone Emergency Department. Hurst was reported by Paris to have said they don’t even believe they can operate the Emergency Department at a profit. Relying on their size and presence they hope to “break even” with the Ellijay location as they look for a profit to come from the flow of patients to Jasper’s Piedmont Hospital location.
If allowed to move forward, Piedmont will operate its Ellijay stand-alone Emergency Department under a lease. Without actually purchasing the property, Piedmont will not be actual owner which would leave an opening for Piedmont to abandon its Emergency Department at a later date. Piedmont’s establishment of the Department will have already removed Gilmer County’s Certificate of Need if they abandoned the building leaving Gilmer County to rely on Jasper’s Hospital for all of its healthcare needs causing further problems for not only the community, but for Gilmer County’s Nursing home as Gilmer’s EMA would be required to transport every resident via ambulance service to Jasper instead of having the convenience of a wheelchair ride to an adjacent building.
Further, Governor Nathan Deal’s own Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee agreed that stand-alone Emergency Departments were not only a bad idea for the communities, but also financially unviable.
“One of the main areas of focus for the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee was to address Emergency Department (ED) stressors in rural hospitals that can contribute and lead to their closure. In an effort to address this issue, a process to scale down hospital operations and create a stand-alone ED was proposed. After testimony and research it was determined that stand-alone EDs are not financially viable, due to several reasons. There are issues with the reimbursement mechanisms and there are extremely high labor costs and capital investments. National trend data also shows most of these being developed in wealthier, suburban areas as opposed to rural areas. It was determined that it takes approximately 15,000 ED visits to break even which equates to a needed population of approximately 35,000. However, Georgia has virtually no rural hospitals in counties capable of supporting an ED without outside subsidies.”
Post Commissioner Travis Crouch, also Chairman of the Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority, is also looking for the long term future of Gilmer county. With close to 25% of Gilmer County being 65 or older, healthcare facilities are critical to our community. While many mention the previous facilities and their loss of over one million dollars a year, Crouch states, “It’s not the marketplace. This market will support a hospital that is run well and maintained well.”
As the county has been seeing economic growth recently, the loss of medical facilities could devastate the efforts of the county as a whole and march us backwards. As former JDA Executive Director Chuck Scraggs stated in a previous interview potential business owners always ask to see the school systems and the hospitals when they visit.
Additionally, Piedmont is not the only hospital service option in Gilmer County as continuous reports from Commissioner Crouch involve another interested party stating, “I am optimistic for the possibility of a hospital in Gilmer and that will be key to our future development,” and “It’s worth the time and effort for a strong possibility of a hospital in our community versus the certainty there there will not be.”
Indeed, the whole of the situation comes down to Gilmer County’s Certificate of Need. If lost, recovering a Certificate of Need is just short of impossible according to Chairman Paris.
Further, citizens need to understand that if Piedmont’s request is denied, the Certificate of Need would give Gilmer and its municipalities the power to search for a Health Provider to service the county with a full facility instead of just a stand-alone Emergency Department which the Governor’s office has already warned against.
Indeed, the county seems to be the only entity considering this as the lack of a full hospital and Emergency Room has already cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars as they have reacted and responded to the citizens needs. They have increased there workforce and are still working on plans to increase the fleet of emergency vehicles to cope with the loss of facilities. Costs that could be redirected to other needs again with a full facility.
With so many issues and every major municipality of the county in opposition to Piedmont’s Emergency Department, citizen’s are asking what more can be done to tell the Department of Community Health that they want a stand alone Emergency Department, but a full facility to further Gilmer County’s economic, community, and healthcare growth, especially since we have an alternative company looking into our community and definitely wanting to support a full hospital.
Follow up with more as FYN attends the Greater Gilmer JDA’s Meeting. Look below as FYN gets a chance to sit down with Post 2 Commissioner and Greater Gilmer JDA Chairman Travis Crouch and further down for a copy of the Georgia Department of Community Health’s Reply.