FEMA approves hospital site

AMERICUS -- In March 2007, a tornado came through Southwest Georgia, effectively destroying Sumter Regional Hospital in Americus.

Phoebe Putney Health System has come one step closer to rectifying that problem.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, a department of national Homeland Security, has given Phoebe clearance to begin construction of Phoebe Sumter Medical Center on a 45-acre parcel in Americus.

Following environmental studies and soil testing, FEMA has determined that building on the new location northwest of the intersection of U.S. highways 19 and 280, on the west side of Americus, would not have significant adverse impact on the biological or human environments.

After careful consideration, officials decided, in order to accommodate future growth, not to build the hospital on the site of the former facility. It was this decision that prompted FEMA's investigation of the new site.

"That triggered with FEMA the need to do a study on the impact (the hospital's construction) would have on the community," said John Fischer, senior vice president of facilities and construction management at Phoebe.

As a result of FEMA's findings, Phoebe is moving ahead with plans to build the nearly 200,000-square-foot medical complex, pending approval from the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH).

The study included socioeconomic and environmental factors, including the impact the facility might have on wildlife, water drainage in the area as well as the ability for patients to obtain care.

"(The study covered) a broad definition of impact," Fischer explained.

The results of the study were released for public review, after which FEMA sent a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) notice to Phoebe officials last week. FEMA's findings ensure federal funding for a portion of the cost to build the facility.

"(The study) says the work we do will not have a negative impact, so the federal government will support it with the money they have committed to it," Fischer said.

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency is also assisting in replacing the permanent hospital facility, Fischer said.

A medical village will be constructed, featuring a four-story, 76-bed hospital. Three free-standing medical office buildings will house oncology, surgery, women and children's services, wellness and orthopedics. The 40-acre construction area will also feature a running/walking track.

Officials expect buildings to be erected on the construction site in January. The medical office buildings will be constructed first to provide access to physicians.

"The community is very excited," Fischer said. "We have a great relationship with the city and county; they have been outstanding. Everybody's been real supportive. We want the hospital to be something the community will be very proud of."

The new hospital is expected to be completed in mid-2011.

Within the next two weeks, Phoebe has plans to file a letter of non-reviewability for the hospital and one for each of the medical office buildings. The letters will need to be approved by the state DCH.

A temporary facility, which was funded by FEMA, has been used in place of the former hospital since the 2007 storm. A groundbreaking for the new facility is set for 2 p.m. Nov. 3 at the construction site, located at 126 Highway 280.