Hospital asks for expansion

LAWRENCEVILLE - Battling intense overcrowding, Gwinnett Medical Center wants to add enough room for another 129 acute-care beds, a $92 million expansion that could take three years.

Gwinnett Hospital System, the nonprofit that runs the medical center, has submitted the initial paperwork to the state Department of Community Health, the regulatory agency that will decide whether the project gets the green light.

The proposal calls for a new five-story patient tower and significant improvements to the hospital lobby.

For the past two years, the nonprofit has met with the county's top business, education and civic leaders to explain the reasons to expand Gwinnett's largest hospital.

The medical center's emergency room routinely ranks among the state's most hectic, officials say. Although it is a 300-bed hospital, only 175 are dedicated to acute, surgical and intensive care. It has been named the busiest medical center for its size in the United States, according to health care research firm Solucient Group.

The hospital saw 120,000 emergency room visits in its past fiscal year, up 3 percent from 2005.

"We're very excited to get this project going," said Wayne Sikes, chairman of the Gwinnett Hospital System board of directors. "It's going to go a long way toward relieving our capacity constraints."

Expanding the medical center was supposed to be the centerpiece of a $225 million capital improvement plan the nonprofit presented in a series of community meetings last year. The meetings were meant to examine how the nonprofit could finance the expansion.