County OKs $25 million for hospital

LAWRENCEVILLE - The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners approved $25 million Tuesday to provide Gwinnett Health System with capital funds to expand Gwinnett Medical Center facilities.

The county will provide the hospital with $5 million each year for five years in addition to the $1 million the hospital receives for improvements each year.

The initial request for funds began in 2004 after a study group was formed to analyze the hospital's and the county's need for expanded health care.

The newly approved funds will be used to expand the Gwinnett Medical Center's main campus facility in Lawrenceville, increasing from a 175-bed to a 305-bed facility with additional expansions and renovations.

Wayne T. Sikes, chairman of the board for Gwinnett Health System, said $1 million a year payments were used to fund the construction of the system's newest facility, Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth.

"Right now our (Lawrenceville) hospital is running at 100 percent capacity every day," Sikes said. "It's just not enough beds to serve our community."

Most county commissioners and community members praised the approval of additional financial assistance.

"The health care that we receive today is nothing less than excellent," Chairman Charles Bannister said. "But the hospital can now deliver a better and wider range of health care in the county."

District 1 Commissioner Lorraine Green said the expansion of the hospital is the next step in providing excellent health care and safety for Gwinnett.

"The hospital needs to grow because our county has grown, period," she said. "This is about the people."

District 3 Commissioner Mike Beaudreau was against Tuesday's decision to grant the hospital the requested money. He said in Tuesday's board meeting that he wanted to see funds go to increasing the number of officers for the county's quality-of-life unit with the remaining money put into reserves.

Jim Maran, president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, said 25,000 new people move into Gwinnett each year and the growth of the hospital is needed.

"What makes this county a great place to live is the fact that we've got the four basic things you need," he said. "A stable government, a good public school system, good business and a good health system. No other county in the state has this."

The next step before beginning the expansion is state approval.

Philip Wolfe, president and CEO of Gwinnett Medical Center, said officials expect the building to be approved by the state within the next few months, and building should begin in January, with a projected completion in January 2009.