‘If we do end up with no hospital’
Commission Chairman Charlie Paris played all the bases in his comments about Piedmont Mountainside Hospital at a Gilmer Chamber luncheon last week.
“First, I want to stress that Piedmont, in my opinion, is a very fine institution,” the county commission chairman began. “If Piedmont was coming up here and taking the ER and maintaining the hospital, I’d be the first in line clapping and applauding and saying ‘thank you.’
“But that’s not the arrangement.”
Paris, in what was billed as a “State of the County” address, said the actual arrangement between the Jasper hospital and SunLink Health Systems – the parent company of North Georgia Medical Center – is for the Ellijay hospital (where Piedmont will set up the emergency department) to remain closed.
“So we are fighting this in an effort to keep that certificate of need (viable) to keep the hospital here in Gilmer,” he qualified. “That’s in the hands of the attorneys, so there’s just not a whole lot more to say about that. We’ll just have to see how it turns out. We will have an ER in November, and that’s going to be positive for us.”
Paris said the three-man board, including Travis Crouch and Dallas Miller, is already dealing with what could be a worst-case scenario.
“The question comes up, though: What if we actually end up with no hospital in the end? We’ve taken some steps to sort of mitigate that,” Paris continued. “The first thing is, this year we’ve purchased two new ambulances, we’ve hired additional EMTs and we’re providing additional training. The idea is if it’s going to take us longer to get you to an ER somewhere, we want to get to you sooner with better trained and better equipped people.
“(That’s so) we can transport you as close to the same amount of time as possible, and make sure we can do what’s necessary to stabilize you.”
Paris said he gets “a lot of questions” about how he would respond to a potential business moving here – and the owner or proprietor asks about the hospital.
“(What if) somebody comes here and says, ‘I’m thinking of moving my business here and moving here myself. Show me your hospital,’” he theorized of a legitimate question. “In that situation – if we do end up with no hospital – I am going to make Piedmont-Jasper hospital my own. If somebody comes in and says, ‘Show me your hospital,’ I’m going to say, ‘Yes sir or yes ma’am, step into my vehicle here, and let me show you what we’ve got just 15 miles from here.’
“The fact we cross the Gilmer County line is going to be irrelevant to me. I’ll drive them straight to Piedmont (Mountainside) and say, ‘There it is, look at it – isn’t it wonderful?’ There’ll be no indication on my part at all that we (have no hospital).”
Paris also told around 110 people in attendance of the board’s accomplishments since coming into office, including vital upgrades of computer servers, the “part we played” in creation of the inter-governmental authority with the two cities and hiring an economic development director.
In addition, Paris pointed out, the county has saved “anywhere from $3 million to $4 million in interest” on bond refunding, and also saw its credit rating increase. He praised the “fantastic” work of the Keep Gilmer Beautiful committee since the local economy thrives on tourism, and added many golfers have told him Whitepath Golf Course is in “the best shape it’s ever been.”
All three commissioners are now officially certified through the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia for the first time in county’s history, he noted of their classwork for the designation.
Plans are on the table for a new Cherry Log fire station (with a completion date in March), and a sewer line to the county jail. Paris said the commission also wants to complete work at the Clear Creek ballfields, including paving the parking lot, adding backstops and a flagpole.
“When we all turned around to say the Pledge (of Allegiance, at the fields’ dedication), we realized we didn’t have a flagpole,” he said.