VALDOSTA -- South Georgia Medical Center needs $18 million to fund the expansion of the emergency room and to add a parking deck, but is not yet ready to ask for tax dollars.

In its annual joint meeting with the Lowndes County Commission and the Valdosta City Council on Wednesday, the administration and members of the Hospital Authority briefed officials on the need for additions to the ER and parking, along with several other expansion projects on the drawing board, totaling $88 million.

Describing the hospital as the "agency of last resort" for those who are uninsured or under-insured, Chief Executive Officer James McGahee said the ER demand from an 11-county region has taxed SGMC's limits. Increased competition from private physician surgery centers and Smith Northview Hospital has eroded SGMC's paying patient base, while the amount of indigent care the hospital provides has increased by $11 million over five years.

"We are providing millions in uncompensated care to patients in our ER," said McGahee, adding that the $13 million cost to renovate and expand the ER, doubling it in

size, will not be offset by increased revenues. The expansion will also cost the hospital nearly 100 parking spaces, which are already in short supply, increasing the need for a parking deck, which will cost an estimated $5 million. "It will not generate one dime of revenue for us," he said.

While SGMC is also planning a new Medical Office Building, a new Ambulatory Surgery Center, an Imaging Center, and additions to Dasher Heart Center, those projects have the ability to generate enough revenue to fund the expense.

McGahee said SGMC has three options: ask for a portion of ad valorem taxes, have the city and county underwrite bond issues, or SPLOST dollars.

"We are currently one of the only hospitals in the state not receiving tax support, and we are trying not to," he said, asking the city and county elected officials to try and find a way to assist SGMC in their plans.

Mayor John Fretti asked McGahee about the joint venture that has been proposed between South Georgia Medical Center and Valdosta State University regarding the nursing and other biosciences programs. Fretti said if SGMC could become a teaching and research hospital, they would have more financial resources at their disposal, in addition to the high tech and higher paying jobs such a program would foster in the community.

McGahee said SGMC and VSU are working together on the joint venture, but have hit a roadblock concerning land that the two entities had identified for the residential housing portion of the proposed project. "The Board of Regents has us on their list, but now we can't get the property," he said.

Three parcels on Patterson Street were identified for the site and SGMC successfully negotiated for two of the parcels, but the third was purchased by a private individual and is now unavailable.

McGahee also announced that SGMC has been asked to prepare to assist in the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts for the possibility of accepting patients from hospitals and nursing homes displaced by the tragedy.

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