LAWRENCEVILLE - Hospital officials say there's something vital missing from Gwinnett Medical Center and it's up to the state to help them make the change.
According to medical center spokesman Kyle Brogdon, Gwinnett is the largest county in the United States without an open-heart program.
More than 400 Gwinnett residents required open-heart surgery in 2005 with those patients having to be transported elsewhere for care, Brogdon said.
"If someone comes in we evaluate them, and if they have a heart problem that requires immediate surgery or angioplasty they'd get in an ambulance and be taken to St. Joseph or Piedmont - those are the most common," Brogdon said.
With the expansion of the hospital and a recent $1 million donation from Clyde and Sandra Strickland, a Lawrenceville couple, the means for an open-heart program is under way.
"We are the only county this large in the nation that does not have open heart services," Clyde Strickland said in a hospital press release. "Someone needs to step forward and make a statement. We believe we were driven to help lead this charge."
The hospital system plans to file for a state required certificate of need (CON) before the end of the year in hopes the medical center will be approved to start the new program.
The last time the system applied for a CON for a heart program was in 1994 and the application was denied, according to Brogdon.
Hospital Planning Director Mark Mullin said the reason for the more than a decade gap in applications was due to the medical center's bed capacity.
"In order to receive the CON they'll want to know where we could put the patients after surgery," Mullin said. "In the past, the state said you don't need new beds."
Without more beds, he said, the state would not approve the certificate.
The state did approve a CON last year for a 170,00-square-foot expansion, increasing the facility from 175 beds to 305 beds. The expansion is expected to be completed by 2009.
Brogdon said before applying for the CON the hospital is looking for the support of the community, asking for letters and e-mails of support to send to the state. He said an online petition has also been set up for community members to sign at www.openheartgwinnett.org.
Brogdon said a community meeting about the hospital's need for an open-heart program will take place at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 25 in the Gwinnett County Justice and Administration Center auditorium.
Once the hospital applies for the CON, Brogdon said it could take anywhere from 90 to 120 days for a response.
According to Mullin, if the certificate is approved, plans and construction of the open-heart program could begin within 18 to 24 months.
SideBar: If you go
' What: Gwinnett Medical Center community meeting
' When: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 25
' Where: Gwinnett County Justice and Administration Center auditorium