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December 12, 2002 Issue

Kelvin Sancho and 8-year-old son Johnathan (left) admire the carols sung by JCHS choir at the Wrens Christmas tree lighting Friday. More than 100 Wadley residents (right) brave the cold weather to attend the lighting of the city's Christmas tree and candle lighting ceremonies.

Plans for new hospital ER in the works

• Addition will house 8,000 square foot emergency room

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Rural hospitals across America continue to face financial crisis and closures. But locally, Jefferson Hospital is thriving. The most recent example of that success is the upcoming addition of an 8,000 square foot state-of-the-art emergency room.

Tentatively planned for construction in late spring, the $2.5 million project will help provide enhanced patient care in three state-of-the-art trauma/cardiac treatment rooms, a triage room and four minor trauma rooms, said hospital CEO Rita Culvern.

Located at the rear of the hospital on what is now the emergency room's traffic circle, the new facility will have separate entrances for ambulance stretchers and walk-in patients and will be equipped with enhanced security. Emergency room registrations, outpatient registrations and hospital admissions will be conducted in private sign-in cubicles. Maximum observation of treatment areas will be possible through a centralized nurse's station.

Culvern said the expansion project carries unique significance because so often a person's entrance into the medical services system begins in an emergency room.

"The most critical advantage a rural hospital can provide its community is an emergency room," she said. "The expansion of the emergency room will provide Jefferson County resident with a state-of-the-art facility. This will allow us to provide patient care in private treatment rooms with updated equipment that enhances the quality of that care."

Culvern said the history of the need for additional space was compelling. The emergency room stood at 976 square feet in 1974 and expanded to 1,366 square feet in 1997. Recommendations for the upcoming expansion were gleaned from nurses, physicians and administrators. Staff considered conditions such as outdated treatment areas, limited space for rendering efficient treatment, inadequate patient privacy, the need of a separate entrances for walk-in and stretcher patients, a cramped family waiting area and outdate décor to be relevant for the board's consideration in the expansion.

The hospital board gained the needed support for the project when the Wrens, Wadley, Louisville and Jefferson County governments recently agreed to continue their financial support to cover the annual bond debt service for the project.

"The authority is grateful for this show of support for the hospital," said Chairman Ray Davis. "It is indicative that our governing leaders recognize the value of the hospital's service to our citizens."

That service, said Culvern, included the provision of nearly $700,000 in indigent care in 1999, $800,000 in 2000, nearly $1 million in 2001 and will exceed $1.4 million in 2002.

In addition, the hospital's Rural Health Program has obtained more than $4 million to date in free prescriptive drugs for Physicians' Health Group patients countywide.

The addition of the new emergency room follows other projects in the past eight years funded by hospital reserves and operating funds. These include the construction of a $250,000 clinic in Wadley, a $500,000 renal dialysis center in Louisville, a $400,000 clinic in Wrens, more than $400,000 in surgical equipment upgrades, nearly $1.5 million in X-ray and lab technology equipment and, most recently, a $350,000 investment in a new air conditioning system and roof repair.

The hospital and clinics throughout the county currently employ nearly 170 people.

Culvern said other planned expansions include construction of a Health Science Center on the hospital grounds. The project would be a collaborative effort between the hospital, Sandersville Technical College, Development Authority of Jefferson County and the Jefferson County Board of Education.

Plans call for offering an evening course for Licensed Practical Nurse program and other health-related careers. The center would house a large conference room to be shared by the school, hospital and the community.

Suspected drug "wholesaler" busted in Wrens

• Officers found over 28 grams of crack cocaine and $5,767 in raid

By Parish Howard

Calls from citizens led Wrens police officers to one of the biggest drug busts in recent memory last week.

During the Friday morning arrest Police Chief David Hannah confiscated over 28 grams of crack cocaine, with an estimated street value of between $15,000-$20,000, from what he called a drug wholesaler. The officers also found $5,767 hidden in the suspect's room.

"We'd been working on this for about two months," Hannah said. "We've had the house under surveillance, watching the traffic in and out. We had received several calls about drug activities that were going on there."

Officers executed a "no-knock" search warrant for the 410 Center Street home of 21-year-old Christopher Jermaine Freeman Friday morning around 9:30 a.m.

Freeman was still in bed and was arrested without incident.

Hannah conducted the search with the aid of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Jefferson County Sheriff Office's K-9 unit.

The drugs and some of the money were found under a mattress. Hannah said he also found $5,000 in a book bag that was inside a shirt hanging in the suspect's closet.

Money confiscated in drug arrests goes into the city's drug enforcement account to be used for equipment and officers in fighting drug activity in the city.

Hannah said he suspected Freeman of selling most of his cocaine in slabs to dealers who then turned around and sold the drug to users.

Freeman was charged with cocaine trafficking and if convicted faces a possible 20-year prison sentence, Hannah said.

"This is one of the largest busts we've had in the city limits since I took over as chief," Hannah said. "There will be more. The drug problem in the city has gotten out of hand. We get calls everyday reporting possible drug activity."

This was the city's third drug-related search warrant executed this year.

The city's own narcotics drug dog K-9 unit is in training now and should be certified by the first of the year and Chief Hannah expects more searches like this will take place at that point.

Hannah encourages citizens to call the police station at (706) 547-3000 to report suspected drug activity in their neighborhoods.

"Pay attention to the amount of traffic you see going in and out of the house that isn't normal, every day visitation," Hannah said. "Sometimes you'll see the same people coming and going two or three times a day. That's a good sign."

Judge upholds officer's dismissal

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

The appeal registered by former Wrens Police Officer Everett "Monty" Baldwin over his termination following an Oct. 9 incident has been decided in favor of the city. The Nov. 19 appeal hearing, heard by Hearing Officer H. Brannen Bargeron, resulted in the termination being upheld on two of the three reasons cited by city officials.

The termination centered on Baldwin's failure to disperse the group of three people who had assembled at the Park and Ride lot apparently in anticipation of a fight between an Amoco employee and the brother of a Wrens police officer. Two other individuals were already present in the lot prior to the arrival of the others. Testimony at the appeal hearing indicated the potential for an altercation had been brewing prior to the incident. The fight began when the Amoco employee arrived, approached the officer's brother and began swinging his fists. The fight lasted for approximately 30 seconds, according to one of the men present who broke up the fight.

City officials cited Baldwin's failure to disperse a crowd when a fight was anticipated and subsequently occurred, conduct reflecting discredit upon the city by his actions and by practicing deceit in making a false statement about his whereabouts in an incident report.

In his summary, Bargeron agreed with two of the city's contentions and disagreed with the other.

"The city failed to prove that Officer Baldwin engaged in any deceitful conduct. The city did show, and Officer Baldwin did admit, that Officer Baldwin ignored known departmental procedure (in failing to disperse the crowd). Officer Baldwin's stated explanation created an appearance of police favoritism thereby casting discredit on the police department," the report said.

"Because Officer Baldwin failed to explain his behavior, and because this behavior, as unexplained, created a significant adverse image to the discredit of the police department, the actions taken in dismissing Officer Baldwin by Chief Hannah and Administrator Johnson should be upheld by the council."

At the appeal hearing, Baldwin maintained that he should have dispersed the group that had gathered at the Park and Ride lot.

He denied consciously omitting information from the miscellaneous incident report, saying that he did not indicate his location at the scene prior and after the brief fight was not outlined since the position of an officer is not normally specified on such a report when an officer completes it.

Bargeron agreed with Baldwin's assertion, citing his unrefuted testimony that "he was never asked to write a report in which he was the subject of the report."

Also during the appeal hearing, the sworn testimony of one of the city's witnesses who stated that she saw Baldwin and another officer watching the fight was retracted.

Throughout the hearing Baldwin continued to acknowledge that his failure to disperse the group was wrong but questioned whether the termination action was too severe a penalty for the policy violation.

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Last modified: December 12, 2002