Top stories of 2007: Layoffs, TB top health beat

Editor's note: The Post's reporters were asked to review the stories that happened on their beat this year and pick the 10 biggest. Today, Melissa Wilson ranks her choices for the top 10 health stories of 2007.

Though October only marked year one for me as the health reporter at the Post, in that time I have seen and had the privilege to write about some amazing and, quite frankly, strange happenings in Gwinnett County.

As the year ends, I can't help but reminisce about the stories that have made it most memorable. So with that said, I have come up with my top 10 stories for 2007. Enjoy.

10. Kaiser opens facility in Sugar Hill/Buford

Kaiser Permanente opened a medical center in Gwinnett this year complete with pharmacy, radiology and medical services.

The 16,000-square-foot facility at 1435 Broadmoor Blvd. in Sugar Hill is the second Kaiser center in Gwinnett.

The center is staffed with three physicians and nine staff members to provide a range of services from adult medicine and pediatrics to gynecology and lab services.

9. Relay for Life

The American Cancer Society raised approximately $1.2 million dollars during this year's Relay for Life.

Nearly 10,000 packed into the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds during a May weekend for a two-day walk to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Participants set up and decorated campsites to serve as shelters and places to rest between walking laps, which were aimed at raising money for cancer research and education for each lap walked.

8. Nearing pollen record

The pollen made its way to Gwinnett this spring and experts said it was some of the worst they'd seen.

The pollen count this year made history for the spore-floating dust, topping off at a count of 5,937 for Atlanta and the surrounding areas. It was the second time in the city's history the count reached the high number.

Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic's Abstract Lab Director, Marie McFalls, said an April 12, 1999 count of 6,013 was the highest ever recorded.

7. West Nile in Gwinnett

Two Gwinnett County residents tested positive for the West Nile virus this summer.

The Gwinnett County Health Department announced a 53-year-old in the northern part of the county and a 57-year-old person tested positive for the mosquito-borne disease.

At last update from the Health Department, both people infected were being treated and expected to make a full recovery.

6. GMC new tower

A June "Crane Christening" was the ceremonial start to the expansion of Gwinnett Medical Center's Lawrenceville campus, which will add a 155-bed, five-story tower to the existing hospital plus a number of renovations and technological upgrades.

The expansion is part of the hospital's Project PATH (Planning, Advancing and Transforming Health care), an initiative planning the medical center's next five years.

The patient tower that currently houses 175 beds was constructed in 1984.

Construction on the $61 million expansion is slated for completion in 2009.

5. GMC open heart

Gwinnett Medical Center will soon file a certificate of need with the state in hopes of receiving approval to add an open heart surgery program at the Lawrenceville campus.

Nearly 800 letters of support have been received by the hospital from supportive community members, according to hospital officials.

GMC plans to file the application before 2008.

Gwinnett is the only county of its size in the country without an open heart surgery program.

4. Psychiatrist charged with sexual assault, battery

Dr. Mohammad Uzair Qureshi, a psychiatrist at the Gwinnett Rockdale Newton Community Service Board in Lawrenceville was charged with sexual battery and assault after more than 10 women came forward in September with complaints they were sexually assaulted by the doctor.

The 45-year-old doctor was arrested at his Lawrenceville home in September and later made bail.

An investigation surrounding the doctor began after a female patient approached Lawrenceville police with complaints Qureshi conducted an unnecessary breast exam during an initial psychiatric consultation.

3. Worst nursing home mistake

A local facility whose name appeared on a government list of worst nursing homes was on the list in error, state officials announced in November.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a list containing 54 of the nation's poorest long-term health care facilities, denoting Laurel Baye Healthcare of Lake Lanier in Buford as one of three not up to par homes in the state.

Within a few days after the release, the error was corrected and the home's name cleared from the list.

2. TB Scare

In August a Duluth teen was ordered to be isolated inside the Gwinnett County Jail by a county judge after reports the 17-year-old had tuberculosis and was refusing treatment.

An investigation ensued by the Gwinnett County Board of Health to determine if Francisco Santos of 1712 The Falls Parkway may have infected anyone.

The teen as well as his family and friends were treated while Santos and his mother faced deportation hearings in federal court.

After being deemed healthy, Santos and his mother were deported to Mexico.

1. GMC layoffs

Gwinnett Medical Center officials announced in June their decision to make budget cuts, which included laying off 72 hospital employees.

As part of a four-month internal Strategic Performance Improvement Plan, the hospital made more than $22 million in cost reductions, affecting both the Lawrenceville and Duluth medical center locations, hospital spokesman Kyle Brogdon said.

Medical Center President and CEO Phil Wolfe said the decision to cut back was a way of balancing the hospital's revenues and costs.

Although Project PATH, which includes the need for a more than $400 million capital expansion for the hospital was announced a few months earlier, hospital officials said the layoffs and financial changes were not a part of the multi-year plan.