LAWRENCEVILLE -- After years of planning and a little controversy, Gwinnett Medical Center finally broke ground on its Heart & Vascular Center on Wednesday afternoon.
The 40,000-square-foot addition to the west side of GMC's Lawrenceville campus is slated to take 18 months of construction to complete. In early 2012, Gwinnett will no longer be the largest county in the nation without an open-heart facility.
"We're here to celebrate the hard-fought victory of bringing open heart to Gwinnett," Charles Bannister, Chairman of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, said before 300 or so people Wednesday.
And hard-fought it was.
In January 2008, Gwinnett Medical Center sent its application for a certificate of need to state regulators. In June of that year, it was approved -- but not without opposition.
Piedmont, Emory University and Emory Crawford Long hospitals in Atlanta all filed opposition, saying, among other things, that "hospitals need to perform a high number of (open heart) procedures to maintain quality."
Following the approval of GMC's program, all three hospitals again filed administrative appeals.
They were for naught, as the Commissioner of the Department of Community Health upheld the original approval last July.
"When we launched our campaign to bring open heart to Gwinnett several years ago, we recognized we couldn't do it without strong support," said Philip Wolfe, GMC president and CEO.
"We told the people of our community that 'open heart is in your hands,' and the outpouring of support was phenomenal. Now open heart is in our hands as we focus on delivering on the promise to bring world-class cardiac care to Gwinnett."
Open-heart surgery has been the focus of the project, but the $33-million facility will also add services to the already-existing cardiac program at GMC-Lawrenceville, coronary angioplasty and stenting procedures among them.
The Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation has raised upwards of $6 million to help in the funding of the Heart & Vascular Center.
"It will be a dream come true," said Dr. Manfred Sandler, dubbed the "champion physician" of the open-heart project.
According to GMC, more than 8,000 patients are treated annually for cardiac-related issues at its Lawrenceville emergency department. Only 20 percent were able to be admitted.
That will soon change, Sandler said, as GMC begins construction and continues hunting for physicians.
"The best of the best will fill those positions, and we can guarantee it," Sandler said.