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Construction under way on Phoebe Sumter center

ALBANY -- Construction is under way at the site of the new Phoebe Sumter Medical Center complex, and the Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine Southwest Georgia Clinical Campus is almost set to bring in their first set of students since gaining residential status.

The Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital board received updates on educational and service outreach efforts at their monthly meeting Wednesday.

Construction at the future site of Phoebe Sumter, located at 126 Highway 280 East in Americus, officially began last month.

"It is fair to say they are in full motion," said Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick. "We are very pleased with the progress there."

Ground was broken for the complex in November 2009. The three medical office buildings on the site are expected to be up and running by the end of this year. Of those, one will house obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics and family practice while another will house oncology and general surgeons. The third will be home to orthopedics, wellness, fitness and education.

The hospital itself is expected to be operational by the end of 2011. The medical center will be four stories and have 76 beds. While the facility is under construction, the existing medical center on Forsyth Street continues to provide services.

Late last month, 23 students from the Medical College of Georgia were in Southwest Georgia to tour Phoebe and the surrounding community with clinical staff to showcase the new residential program based at the hospital.

Officials say the visit went well.

"We wanted to show them that we are not going to bring them to a backward location," said Dr. Doug Patten, senior vice president of medical affairs at the hospital. "They were very favorable about the facility and the community."

The class coming to the campus this fall will be the first since it was set to receive residential status -- which means students coming to Southwest Georgia will be spending the majority of their third and fourth years of medical school in the region.

Previously, students coming to the campus did rotations that lasted several weeks at a time. Officials are looking to bring in 15 students, a number they will decide on for sure next week, in July and build from there.

"We are excited this is finally coming to pass," Patten said. "There's a real need for it."

The clinical campus covers 36 counties including Columbus and LaGrange, meaning students connected to the campus will be able to study in areas throughout Southwest Georgia. Renovations are ongoing at a former middle school across the street from Phoebe to be used as classroom space.

"We already have a shortage of primary care physicians," said Wernick. "Our investment is an investment (for the region). It's an ongoing strategy."

The Willson Hospice House, currently under construction off North Westover Boulevard near Darton College, is another project in the works involving Phoebe. That facility is expected to be complete in the first half of May, Wernick said.

Before the start of the monthly meeting, the board elected new officers. A motion was made to keep the same chair, John Temp Phillips, and vice-chair, John Culbreath. The motion was passed.