Phoebe Putney expanding its influence

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- Phoebe Putney has a strong influence on the health care industry in Southwest Georgia -- that is without debate.

And it is expected to get even stronger.

Phoebe has a number of developments coming into fruition this year, the earliest of which is expected to be the final closing on Palmyra Medical Center.

In acquiring the 248-bed hospital, there are a lot of things that need to be sorted out before closing can take place -- which is something Phoebe is attempting to take one step at a time.

"We are meeting with managers to answer some questions," said Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick. "We are chipping away little by little."

Some of the "chips" include license transfers, splicing computer systems and determining employee eligibility. Twenty-two of Palmyra's personnel did not qualify.

Perhaps the most complex component is the re-alignment of services, which could potentially take several months or even years to completely sort out.

"We have gotten a lot of suggestions, and from our perspective, we are not throwing anything out," Wernick said.

An amendment to the Palmyra asset purchase agreement was approved earlier this month to allow for the closing to take place on or before March 1. When the acquisition was first announced, officials were telling the public that closing would take place Jan. 31.

The acquisition will include more than a dozen properties affiliated with Palmyra, some of which include vacant lots. The hospital itself will be the sixth one added to Phoebe's health system.

These properties, the hospital included, will likely be used to ease the burden on departments that have experienced capacity problems at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital's main campus -- such as rehabilitation or intensive care -- and to house departments at the main hospital currently located in older parts of the campus.

"With the nature of the plumbing, ceiling height (and other factors), the question is to renovate or move," Wernick explained. "Palmyra is a facility much younger than some parts of (Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital). They've got space there to stage construction.

"The ICU, critical care (departments) are having a lot of capacity issues. We already have innovative ideas on what should and should not be there (at Palmyra), but we need to understand how moving things around will impact other departments."

Phoebe has outside consultants working with it to better help management understand how the transition will impact the departments involved, Wernick said.

Once the acquisition has been finalized, Palmyra will be known as Phoebe North.

While the dealings with Palmyra progress, Phoebe officials are also finalizing the leasing documents for Dorminy Medical Center in Fitzgerald.

"The majority of our leadership focus is that, a year from now, (Palmyra and Dorminy) will be fully integrated into Phoebe Putney Health System," Wernick said.

The announcement was made in September that Phoebe would be managing Dorminy. Since then, a letter of intent has turned into a management agreement and now officials have opted to move forward with the lease documents.

Now that the state's attorney general has reportedly been notified of the deal, officials will allow for a 90-day review period. If everything goes as planned, the process should be complete by April or May.

Another project still ongoing is the development of the Phoebe Sumter Medical Center complex. Two medical buildings -- housing the Women's & Family Center and the Oncology & Surgery Center -- are already operating ,while the third, the Wellness & Education Center, is set to have a ribbon-cutting today.

The only remaining facility is the hospital itself, which will be four stories high and have 76 beds.

"The hospital will be open for patients no later than this time next year," Wernick said.

Officials predict the hospital to be ready in December. By the time the first quarter of 2011 is out, most of the physician offices connected to Phoebe Sumter are expected to be operating.

Another construction project in the works for Phoebe is a new digestive disease services facility to be built on the same grounds as the Meredyth Place complex, located in northwest Albany.

"It's a $20 million construction process," Wernick said. "It's been in development for six to nine months, and we expect to commence construction no later than spring."

Construction has also been ongoing in recent months for the new headquarters of the Southwest Georgia Pharmacy Program of the University of Georgia -- which will be located in the Phoebe Learning Center, site of the former Albany Middle School, on Jefferson Street.

The office itself opens at the end of March, after the conclusion of four months of construction. The students will begin using the facility in 2012.

"We have seen continued growth, and growth creates volume and jobs," Wernick said. "Considering where we are, we feel positive about the results."