Piedmont Hospitals Support National Drug Take Back Day

Piedmont Mountainside

Jasper, Ga. (April 16, 2019) – From 1999 to 2010, opioid-related deaths in Georgia increased by 500 percent. In 2016, there were close to 1,000 deaths involving opioids in the state and those numbers are continuing to increase. Facing those statistics and knowing that all healthcare systems need to play a role in attempting to stem this epidemic, Piedmont Healthcare is examining its pain management policies and connecting its hospitals with stakeholders in the community in an effort to address this crisis.

National Drug Take Back Day, which is sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), is Saturday, April 27, and will feature activities between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Local law enforcement agencies will provide a safe, convenient and responsible way to dispose of unused or expired prescription drugs. The majority of teenagers abusing prescription drugs get them from the home medicine cabinet. Using pharmaceutical drugs without a prescription or a doctor’s supervision can lead to accidental poisoning, overdose and abuse.

“One of the most important things we can do as individuals, especially as we try to protect our families and children, is to dispose of unused, unwanted, and expired prescription drugs,” said Piedmont Mountainside CEO Denise Ray. “That’s why we’re supporting the efforts of our local public safety departments and letting our employees know about National Drug Take Back Day and what they can do on a personal level.”

In 2018, Take Back Day brought in more than 900,000 pounds of unused or expired prescription medication. Disposing of those drugs safely keeps them off the streets and protects the environment as well. On its website for Take Back Day, the DEA has a collection site locator that allows individuals to find the closest take back sites to where they live: https://takebackday.dea.gov/.

Throughout its 11 hospitals, Piedmont will be coordinating with various local law enforcement and public health agencies on Take Back Day.

From a system level, Piedmont, the largest healthcare provider in Georgia, convened an Opioids Task Force in 2018 and is seeking to provide patients with optimal pain management while preventing the potential for opioid abuse. One of the key tenets to Piedmont’s plan is to increase education and awareness among both patients and staff. There are times when the use of opioids is appropriate and necessary, but Piedmont’s new protocols, created by its physician leaders in consultation with clinical staff, will consider non-opioids and alternate pain management modalities such as topical therapy, local injections, massage, physical therapy and more. Piedmont will also focus on establishing system-wide standardization and coordination of prescribing protocols in key risk areas.

“It is important to reduce the stigma around opioid addiction,” said Ray. “Unfortunately this is a sweeping epidemic, one that is effecting people across the country, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. No one person, organization, city or state can tackle it alone, but Piedmont Mountainside is proud to join our sister hospitals and play a role alongside our patients and partners in the community.”

Learn more about Piedmont at piedmont.org


Piedmont Announces ER Opening Day


Piedmont has recently made a press release announcing their April 3 opening date.

After numerous delays and obstacles Piedmont is ready to open its doors for Gilmer County care. Along with their announcement, Piedmont offered the following release.

Piedmont Mountainside Hospital today announced the opening of Georgia’s first freestanding emergency room. The ER opens on April 3 in a space previously occupied by North Georgia Medical Center, which closed in June 2016 due to financial hardships.

“It is imperative patients have access to emergency care, especially for life-threatening conditions like heart attack or stroke where every minute matters,” Denise Ray, CEO of Piedmont Mountainside, said. “That’s why this agreement is so important for the community. With the nearest hospital 20-30 minutes away, the health and well-being of many depend on it.”

The freestanding ER, publicly known as Piedmont Mountainside Emergency Services at Ellijay, will house emergent medical equipment, including a 64 Slice-CT scanner, X-ray, and pharmacy and laboratory equipment. Piedmont Mountainside has hired an additional 35 employees to support the location, including nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists, and radiology and lab technicians.

“Without a nearby hospital, Gilmer County residents were left completely without immediate medical care,” added Ray. “As a community-focused hospital, Piedmont Mountainside recognized their immediate need and acted. We are proud to expand our services in Gilmer County and will strive to deliver the same level of patient-centered care expected of the Piedmont name.”

Freestanding emergency departments operate as an extension of an ER in a hospital, providing 24-hour access to emergency physicians, nurses, labs and radiology technicians. They offer similar services as emergency rooms attached to the hospital, like moderate-complexity blood testing and advanced imaging, and they care for most emergent illnesses (heart attack, stroke and minor trauma).

Patients requiring admission or transfer will follow the same process as they would if they were entering Piedmont Mountainside Hospital’s emergency room in Jasper. For more information, visit piedmont.org.


Behind the Doors at Piedmont’s Emergency Department


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.

ParisDuring 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 CT Scanolder 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.

XRayPiedmont 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.

RalstonState 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.

GoochThis 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.


Piedmont Holds Ribbon Cutting Prior to Opening


As the Piedmont Stand-Alone Emergency Department enters the final stages of preparation and inspections, they held a celebration with local and state officials to honor the occasion.

Construction is complete and renovations are over, the near $2 million project is now awaiting final inspections and approval of the actual ED (Emergency Department) itself. Upon completion of those, Piedmont will be officially declaring its opening date.

The Ribbon Cutting ceremony was attended by not only local officials like Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Post Commissioner and Greater Gilmer JDA (Joint Development Authority) Chairman Travis Crouch, and Director of Public Safety Tony Pritchett, but also state officials State Senator Steve Gooch and House Speaker David Ralston.

Group Photo

Piedmont is also already looking to the future of the Emergency Department with suggestions of providing an upgrade to digital for the X-Ray machines in 2018 as well as integration into its Epic System for the local Piedmont Healthcare Offices in Gilmer County that citizens have seen on Industrial Boulevard and on Eller Road behind Walmart in East Ellijay.

This Epic System is an integrated records network that 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.

Stay tuned to FYN in the coming days as we delve deeper into the Emergency Department including a look behind the scenes at some of new changes Piedmont is bringing to Gilmer County’s Emergency Care as well as a closer look at the equipment and Epic System.

Meanwhile, check in with the Gilmer Chamber below to watch the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.


JDA Listens to Projects and Healthcare Possibilities


The Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority did not change officers during its first 2017 meeting retaining Travis Crouch as Chair and Lex Rainey as Vice Chair for the year as well as Gilmer Chamber Director Paige Green as Secretary/Treasurer.

The February Meeting was the first of the four quarterly meetings for 2017, and Executive Director Debbie Sadler reported updates for five current projects underway. One of which, referred to as Project FW could see foreign investments looking for a North Georgia possibility.

While most of the projects reports were kept secret in favor of investors anonymity and project security, including the potential of 16,000 square feet being looked at by the State of Georgia, one project that Sadler did open up with, Project Open World will see visitors from the Republic of Georgia on April 6th.

Gilmer County will be among several stops for the Representatives including three other counties and a visit to Atlanta, Ga according to Sadler. In addition to a presentation, lunch, and industry and business tours, she hopes to treat the visiting guests to a more hometown feel of our local agriculture as it is “first in driving Georgia’s economy.”

The JDA’s executive director is also being proactive in project research as she gave a report from a visit with Patriot Rail’s representative to discuss Gilmer County’s railways. During her report, Sadler stated that Patriot Rail gave a 45-day estimate to repair the railways in the county. However, this is simply a preemptive estimate to see what could be accomplished. If an interested entity would want to build in Ellijay, “there would have to be a company with enough shipments going by rail in order for Patriot Rail to consider renovating our current rails so they could connect heading to Atlanta.”

As the meeting moved into the Citizens Wishing to Speak section, The JDA heard local Ruth Caudell asking them to check for local possibilities for a walk-in clinic. Though she was assured they were continuing to look at options, Caudell asked the Board to “Please, don’t give up.”

Caudell further asked the Board to harbor cooperation and community with incoming Piedmont Healthcare’s Emergency Room. Secretary Paige Green did say that conversations with Piedmont have tended to show Piedmont invested in the area and the ER’s plan.

While citizens continue to worry about the county’s healthcare future, Piedmont has set a ribbon cutting date. The event will be held March 10 from 4:00-5:00p. While many echo Caudell’s comments of hope in the ER’s potential, it would seem that now it is Piedmont who needs to earn the trust of the citizens, the local government, and the businesses within Gilmer County.


Be sure to check below for the Board’s approved financials as well as their 2017 Budget:


Piedmont ER Diagnosed with Delays


With the official statement being, “due to unforeseen developments, the official opening has been delayed until later in the month,” Piedmont’s Emergency Room will not see it’s February 1st opening date.

While Denise Ray, CEO, Piedmont Mountainside Hospital stated that they have completed everything necessary to open their emergency room, they are awaiting a few inspections and filing approvals to finalize the project.

Specifically, Ray referred to “CMS-855 and State Lab Inspections”as the main hold ups.

Several inspections have already been completed on the hospital including the DEA and State Fire Marshalls. The ER has already received its Certificate of Occupancy on January 6th. However, the delays could see the ER not opening until the later part of February.

When it does open, FYN has been informed that almost any emergency service that could be handled in their Mountainside location will be able to be handled in their new emergency room. They have already attained equipment to support their plans for “a 64 Slice-CT scanner, X-ray, pharmacy and laboratory” located on premises according to Ray who says all the equipment is being tested for use.

Additionally, the staff to be used will incorporate the same Team Health service that provide physicians for Piedmont Mountainside. Ray said,

“We have carefully coordinated details with Team Health, our current provider of ER physicians, to ensure that there will be no scheduling conflicts. We have also hired more than 22 additional staff, including nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists, radiology and lab technicians and more to support this location. A large number of existing employees will also be rotating between Piedmont’s other locations to provide the appropriate compliment of staff to care for our patients.”

Of course, with the free-standing Emergency Department, any patients requiring hospitalization would be transferred. However, Piedmont has assured FYN that admissions and transfers would follow “the same process as they would if they were entering Piedmont Mountainside Hospital’s emergency room in Jasper.”


Piedmont Emergency Room Delays?


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.


Hospital Talks Continue in JDA and BOC


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


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