Southern Regional plans satellite campus

By Michael Davis

Clayton County's hospital has more than 90 acres of land it's not quite sure what to do with yet, officials said.

Southern Regional Health Systems announced the June purchase in a press release only this week, and said it's still studying what to do with the 92 acres that sit north of Ga. Highway 138 about a mile and half west of Interstate 75.

The property sits across the street from two senior housing communities: The Gardens at Lake Spivey, which bills itself as "active adult apartments" and Jonesboro Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, an assisted living community.

Hospital President and CEO Ed Bonn said in a telephone interview that the purchase was part of the healthcare system's strategic planning and said options were being explored through medical office developers for building an out-patient center. Feedback from the physicians in the local medical community will determine the what's actually built on the site, he said.

Bonn said the hospital had to buy all of the property in order to seal the deal, and he did not rule out future sale of part of the land. He said more and more of his colleagues in the medical industry are "exploring other than traditional health-related avenues to generate revenue."

"Clearly we have the opportunity for exploring what to do with the balance of the land," Bonn said.

Hospital officials feel the property is a prime location for expansion of outpatient services and medical offices. The state Department of Transportation is beginning work to widen the Ga. 138 corridor there, and another project is under way to widen the road in Henry County from Ga. Highway 42 out to Rockdale County.

"The future for 138 is to be a major artery through the Southern Crescent," Bonn said.

In neighboring Henry County, the hospital is already under way with it's own expansion at its Stockbridge campus one interstate exit south. The 5-story, 91 bed inpatient facility began construction last year after being held up by challenges from Southern Regional and Spalding Regional Hospital over its state issued certificate of need. Those challenges were later dropped in a compromise that would allow 71 beds at Henry Medical Center to come online at the new facility's opening.

Henry Medical Center President and CEO Sam Ahern said this week the project is about four weeks ahead of schedule. The tower is scheduled to open next summer and most of the structural work is expected to be finished by the end of this month. A "topping out" party is scheduled for Sept. 29.

But while there is some overlap in the hospitals' service areas, the competition helps both hospitals improve services, Ahern said.

"To the extent that we compete, we like to think we compete at a high level and in a way that helps both of us raise the level of service," he said.

Southern Regional's Bonn said the land acquisition is key to the hospital's long term success. Given the relative small size of Clayton County and dense population, about twice that of Henry, Bonn said it gives the hospital, "flexibility from a long-term strategic standpoint."

The Atlanta Regional Commission predicts about 1 million more households in the region in the next 25 years, or roughly 2.3 million people. Henry County could see as many as 100,000 more residents, and Clayton about 40,000 more, according to ARC projections.