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Hospital with a heart
GMC's state-of-the-art North Tower to open Sept. 30

LAWRENCEVILLE - From its ongoing efforts to add an open-heart surgical program to the near completion of a new 155-bed patient tower, Gwinnett Medical Center's vision to transform health care is well on its way.

The state-of-the-art North Tower, an $80 million project that includes $13 million of new technology and equipment, will be open for patients Sept. 30.

Designed with input from nurses, clinicians and more than 50 doctors, its hardwood floors, natural and indirect lighting and warm colors embody the "hospitality versus hospital" theme, officials said.

Cindy Gilbert, owner of The Singin' Bean coffee shop, recently toured the new facility with fellow Women's Networking of Gwinnett members.

"It's peace of mind to know that the hospital actually cares about the way you feel," Gilbert said. "It's a hospital with a heart."

"That's a new concept," added Stephanie Grenier, a chiropractor also on the tour.

GMC is offering public tours as a way of showcasing the hospital's facilities and welcoming members of the community to be part of the mission of transforming health care.

"When people are part of an experience, they feel good when it fosters a positive image in the future," hospital spokeswoman Andrea Wehrmann said. "In turn, the community is our best resource to spread - by word of mouth - our initiatives to their friends and family."

The top five floors of the eight-story tower will be used for patient care, officials said.

Those floors include a progressive care unit and centers for cardiac services, neuroscience and spine, orthopedics and surgical specialties and women's specialties and surgical services.

Other notable features include:

· Free wireless Internet throughout;

· Strickland Chapel and healing garden for visitor comfort and personal reflection;

· Isolation rooms on each floor;

· HEPA 99.97 percent individually filtered air in all patient rooms.

· Larger rooms crafted with double-thick walls and white noise for added privacy; and

· Guest retreat complete with couches, TVs and a panoramic view of Gwinnett County and Stone Mountain.

Phil Wolfe, GMC's president and CEO, said it's not any one project or program that will carry the hospital into the future, but a combination. He envisions a day where no one will have to leave Gwinnett for medical services.

"We are very excited about the future of health care in Gwinnett County," Wolfe said. "We know many needs aren't being met and we are growing the facilities on the Lawrenceville campus to help meet those needs. These things are key components for transforming health care."

As new patients are accepted and current patients transferred to the North Tower, the 25-year-old South Tower will be renovated to "mimic the North Tower design finishes," Wehrmann said. That project is still in the planning stages, she added.

A building now under construction behind the Women's Pavilion will house the Positron Emission Tomography, Computerized Tomography and Magnetic Resonance Imaging centers.

Officials said other plans for the location, a joint venture between physician practices and Meadows and Ohly, a health care real estate company, are also being considered.

Construction is scheduled for completion in early 2010.

Darlene de la Plata-Amos owns a health food store in Lawrenceville. She toured the new tower even though her personal goals are to help people make healthy choices each day to keep the doctor away and stay out of the hospital.

"I wanted to understand what they offer, and I'm impressed," she said. "For people who have whitecoat syndrome, it's more friendly. I want to keep people out of hospitals, but if I have to recommend one, this would be it."

SideBar: Fun facts

· Doors in the North Tower are seven feet wide to ensure easy patient transfer. Wide enough to allow a Hummer H2 to pass through.

· The tower features slip-resistant bathroom floors to reduce slipping.

· The entire Gwinnett Braves roster, plus 112 fans, could fit into one of the 285-square-foot patient rooms.

· The width of the fourth floor, including the North Tower, South Tower and connecting bridge, is wider than the Sears Tower in Chicago.

· The oversized elevators are large enough to hold 28,102,267 pieces of candy.