Chestatee Regional Hospital has the only emergency room in Lumpkin County. Northeast Georgia Health System, a hospital network based in Gainesville, wants to buy it.
They have reached a conditional agreement on the deal and now must make it through a due diligence period.
Should the sale go through, Northeast Georgia Health will have to close Chestatee, but it could just be temporarily. The company must do so to avoid the legal liability of Chestatee’s current owner, Durall Capital.
Despite that, Dahlonega Mayor Sam Norton said new ownership would be “a step up” for the area.
Durall has come under scrutiny recently for its billing practices. Nearly 20 insurance companies sued it last week.
Norton said he is excited about what Northeast Georgia Health might do in Lumpkin.
“They have a good reputation, and they’re in that business,” he said. “I think the previous owner had no experience running a hospital.”
During the closure, the nearest emergency room will be in Gainesville, though Northeast Georgia Health already runs an urgent care clinic in the county. While the disruption will be challenging for the community, Norton said the sale is still “an opportunity to improve health care in our region.”
“We know what we had, and we know what [Northeast Georgia Health] is doing in surrounding communities, so we look forward to them doing that same good job here,” he said.
Once the sale goes through, Northeast Georgia Health plans to sell the Chestatee property to the Board of Regents for future use by the University of North Georgia. Chestatee’s about 200 employees will lose their jobs when the hospital closes.
The regents plan to lease it immediately back to Northeast Georgia Health, since the university does not plan to use it for a few years. Through this transaction, Northeast Georgia Health would retain Chestatee’s certificate of need, which Georgia requires for anyone operating a health care facility.
State legislators earmarked funds to the university to purchase the property during the upcoming fiscal year 2019.
In a news release about the sale, University of North Georgia President Bonita Jacobs said health care is “a broad-reaching, high-demand career area, and the facility could serve as a catalyst for interdisciplinary opportunities and collaborations to support workforce development needs, such as advanced technologies, informatics, and analytics.”
From there, Northeast Georgia Health plans to gather information from the community before deciding on a long-term strategy for Lumpkin County. What’s not yet clear, Northeast Georgia Health spokesman Sean Couch said, is whether the company will build a new hospital or emergency health care center at a new location or maintain services at Chestatee even as it’s used by the university. The assessment could take up to 12 months.
This story has been updated.