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Hospital expansion under way

New CEO Philip Wolfe will carry out a major expansion of Gwinnett's community hospital system to keep up with what he calls the county's staggering population growth.

Wolfe, who comes to the nonprofit hospital system from a northern California health network, already has several months under his belt with Gwinnett Hospital System.

As CEO, he oversees the county's largest hospital in Gwinnett Medical Center. The hospital system is also the county's third-largest employer with nearly 4,300 workers.

Wolfe said his first priority is opening the new Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth this fall, a nearly 175,500 square-foot high-tech hospital with 81 beds.

The medical center may draw patients from the highly affluent areas of north Fulton and south Forsyth, a demographic defined by country clubs and $1 million homes.

A larger expansion is slated for the nonprofit's flagship hospital in Lawrenceville.

To battle intense overcrowding and long waits in the emergency room, Wolfe and other nonprofit leaders want to add 129 acute-care beds to Gwinnett Medical Center. The $92 million, five-story patient tower could take three years to complete.

"Adding capacity is absolutely critical," Wolfe said. "The growth here is so staggering we will have to rely on new beds to keep up and, in turn, grow ourselves."

Gwinnett Hospital System 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.

Plan goes to the public

Gwinnett's business, education, health care and other community leaders have launched a new economic development plan.

Known as Partnership Gwinnett, the idea is being spearheaded by the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and Lawrenceville cable equipment maker Scientific-Atlanta, the 10th-largest county employer with about 1,600 workers.

Local cities and several companies have also put their money behind the effort, touted as a prime example of public-private partnerships.

While Gwinnett faces several recent challenges - the loss of high-tech, high-paying jobs, rapidly growing school and health systems, and the need for more affordable senior housing - no single event prompted officials to launch their idea.

"There was no trigger," said Scott Morris, the Chamber's director of economic development. "We wanted to be

proactive."

The initiative kicks off at a community leadership meeting Aug. 22 on the Gwinnett Technical College Campus.