Phoebe Sumter to open in early 2011

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- Things have begun to pick up at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and at the future site of Phoebe Sumter Medical Center.

Officials in Americus and Albany have been monitoring the ongoing progress of the Phoebe Sumter complex and now have a clearer picture as to when the site will be used for its intended purpose.

"This investment is allowing (the Americus community) to go through a phoenix," said Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick. "It is a topic of discussion there, and you see something new every day at the construction site."

Two of the three on-site medical office buildings are expected to be open in January 2011, with the third to follow shortly after. A topping-out ceremony for the hospital is planned for November. The ground was broken on the site at a ceremony late last year, which was attended by such dignitaries as former President Jimmy Carter.

Sumter Regional Hospital was destroyed in a March 2007 tornado, after which a temporary facility was put in place. A number of physicians, some of whom left the area after the storm, have committed to practice at Phoebe Sumter.

The complex, which is being constructed at 126 Highway 280, is expected to include women's and family services, oncology, surgery, and wellness and education centers. The complex also includes the hospital, which will be four stories high and consist of 76 beds. It is expected to be in operation by the end of 2011.

Things have also picked up in Albany's facilities, where officials have reported an increase in lengths of stay, emergency center visits and convenient care visits.

Officials say a lot of the increased use has to do with the economic downturn.

"People have had a difficult time in this economy keeping in touch with their primary care physicians," said Dr. Doug Patten, senior vice president of medical affairs at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. "We see that translate into (increased) visits to the ER and convenient care.

"The length of stay is longer because patients being admitted are actually sicker now."

The length of stay for patients at the hospital during Fiscal Year 2010 was 5.36 days, up from 5.17 days in Fiscal Year 2009. During the same time frame, emergency center visits rose from 50,529 to 53,171, and convenient care visits have risen from 36,741 to 39,201.

There was increased activity at Phoebe during the same time last year, which was primarily caused by the H1N1 outbreak.

Even so, it's not uncommon for spikes to occur going into the the last quarter of the year.

"As we go into fall, we see more encounters with health care, particularly with it being flu season," Patten said. "It will stay busy, and volume will pick back up."

The same report, presented to media representatives at a Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital board meeting Wednesday, also shows that admissions have decreased from 18,791 in Fiscal Year 2009 to 17,921 in Fiscal Year 2010, and patient days have gone down from 97,231 to 96,090 during the same period.

This might have to do with increased activity in Americus.

"We like that; we think that's the right answer," Patten said. "We will press people to get treated close to home."

During a three-hour executive session, the board also discussed recommended staff changes, which were later approved during open session.