Chestatee Regional Hospital has Lumpkin County’s only emergency room. On July 26, it is set to close, but that may not be the end of the story.
Chestatee, in Dahlonega, will be shutting down because the new owner wants to avoid old legal troubles. Northeast Georgia Health System, a private company, doesn’t want to be held liable for the insurance fraud accusations against the current owner, Durall Capital.
Northeast Georgia Health is still working out its long-term plans for Lumpkin County, which could include a new emergency room. But for now, it will add hours at its nearby urgent care center. That center will now close at midnight instead of 8 p.m. The closest emergency room will be in Gainesville in the meantime.
Louis Smith, president of system acute and post-acute operations at Northeast Georgia Health, said his company understands that the community is “concerned” and “anxious” at this point about the next steps, and, “Certainly, working to get more services in that community is our priority over the next several months.”
He said the network has launched an internal review to try to work out those next steps. The hope is to have answers in two to three months.
Smith said things are in flux because the hospital network had to make a quick decision once the opportunity to buy Chestatee came up. “When that presented itself, it was like, well, somebody’s gotta step up and make a decision here, so we are going to be that organization.”
Dahlonega Mayor Sam Norton said Northeast Georgia Health has a good reputation in the region, but locals are still apprehensive.
“We don’t want to have to drive 45 minutes for emergency services. We need these facilities opened, and the community needs that peace of mind that there is emergency care in the community,” he said.
Norton said he is hopeful that Northeast Georgia will do a better job than the current owner. “Northeast Georgia has got a responsibility. They’re going to be the player, and so we expect them to step up and do a good job, as I’m sure they will.”
In the far long term, Smith said, the University of North Georgia ultimately hopes to take over the Chestatee facility. Northeast Georgia Health would then move its operations to land it already owns nearby.