LAWRENCEVILLE - Having received nearly 800 letters of support, Gwinnett Medical Center is on its way to providing the state with what's hoped to be a rather convincing argument for approving an open-heart surgery facility at its Lawrenceville campus.
Gwinnett is the largest county in the country without open heart services, and the hospital is preparing to apply for a Certificate of Need (CON), which, upon approval, would allow the much needed open heart program.
As it stands, patients in Gwinnett who need heart surgery or emergency heart care must be transported to a hospital in Atlanta.
"National guidelines recommend interrupting a heart attack within 90 minutes," medical center Director of Cardiology Dr. Manford Sandler told the Post previously. Currently, he said it takes an average of 209 minutes to transport a patient to an Atlanta-area hospital offering the appropriate heart care.
Gwinnett's 750,000-plus residents account for nearly 10 percent of the state's population, according to the hospital's Web site, with Gwinnett as the second largest in population in Georgia only to Fulton County - a county whose hospitals have open-heart surgery.
Starting in October hospital administration began to enlist the community's help in acquiring approval for the state-required CON.
Hospital spokesman Kyle Brogdon said a number of community groups and individuals have signed on to support the hospital's efforts.
Nearly 800 support letters have been submitted through the mail and on the Internet through a Web site, www.openheartgwinnett.org, dedicated to Gwinnett open-heart support.
Though the hospital is expected to file the CON before 2008, Brogdon said the community shouldn't stop sending in their letters of support. He encourages community members to continue to express their thoughts online or in a written letter.
"In addition, in the past month we've gotten declarations supporting open heart at (Gwinnett Medical Center) from many groups, including the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, Lawrenceville City Council, the Gwinnett County Public Schools Board, City of Duluth and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce," Brogdon said. "Right now we are still looking for more community support and education. Far too few people know that Gwinnett is the largest county in the nation without open-heart surgery."
John Riddle, the hospital's vice president of marketing and development, has said financial support is also a large part of what the hospital will need to bring open heart surgery to Gwinnett.
With a recent $1 million donation from Lawrenceville couple Clyde and Sandra Strickland the means for a program is under way, but Riddle said more is needed.
Sandler estimated the construction and creation of an open-heart program would cost about $25 million to $30 million to complete.
If the CON is approved, the hospital administration has said it could take three to five years for Gwinnett to have an open heart center up and running.