Towns most COVID-19 vaccinated county in the North Georgia MountainsNews September 3, 2021
HIAWASSEE, Ga – In Towns County, 51 percent of the population have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
47 percent are fully vaccinated.
Union General Hospital is over capacity in the ICU by 160 percent and 140 percent over inpatient capacity as of August 31. Chatuge Regional Hospital is part of the Union General Health Systems.
Of the 59 inpatients, 49 were unvaccinated and 4 were vaccinated.
Many patients at Chatuge Regional who receive an ambulance ride are having to wait in the vehicles until availability opens.
Mayor Liz Ordiales asked people to try and avoid any COVID risky activities if possible. She also urged people to get the vaccine. The health department and Ingles aren’t requiring prior appointments, walk-ins are welcome.
Upcoming Public Forum
A public forum concerning Towns, Hiawassee, and Young Harris’s future efforts will be held on Thursday, September 9 at 7 p.m. at the Recreation Center. Land use updates will be covered and the results of the comprehensive plan survey.
Councilmember Anne Mitchell received a certificate of recognition from UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
Verizon has proposed a 265-foot cell tower has been proposed in the area of Bell Creek and Bell Street. It should expand cell service in the city and county if approved.
The city’s considering the future of the Halloween trick or treat event because of the recent COVID-19 outbreak. No decisions have been made yet, but they will keep an eye on the situation. The Delta Variant appears to be affecting children in greater numbers than previous variants of COVID-19.
Union General Hospital Receives ACC Advanced Heart Failure AccreditationPress Release June 5, 2020
The American College of Cardiology (ACC) has recognized Union General Hospital for its demonstrated expertise and commitment in treating patients with heart failure. Union General Hospital was awarded Advanced Heart Failure Accreditation in April based on rigorous onsite review of the staff’s ability to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients with heart failure through pre-hospital care, early stabilization, acute care, transitional care, clinical quality measures and more. Union General is the only hospital in the state of Georgia to receive this exceptional accreditation and the 3rd in the nation.
Heart failure is a condition where the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen. Facilities earning Advanced Heart Failure Accreditation not only demonstrate management of advanced heart failure, but also provide heart transplant and mechanical circulatory support and meet other specific criteria for the Advanced designation.
Hospitals that employ an evidence-based, protocol-driven and systematic approach to managing heart failure have been able to reduce time to treatment, and are able to identify and predict high-risk patients while also reducing length-of-stay and hospital readmissions.
“Union General Hospital has demonstrated its commitment to providing Union County and surrounding counties with excellent heart care,” said Phillip D. Levy, MD, FACC, chair of the ACC Accreditation Management Board. “ACC Accreditation Services is proud to award Union General Hospital with Advanced Heart Failure Accreditation.”
Hospitals receiving Advanced Heart Failure Accreditation from the ACC must take part in a multi-faceted clinical process that involves: completing a gap analysis; examining variances of care, developing an action plan; a rigorous onsite review; and monitoring for sustained success. Improved methods and strategies of caring for patients include streamlining processes, implementing of guidelines and standards, and adopting best practices in the precise care of heart failure patients. Facilities that achieve accreditation meet or exceed an array of stringent criteria and have organized a team of doctors, nurses, clinicians, and other administrative staff that earnestly support the efforts leading to better patient education, improved patient outcomes, and more effective and efficient disease control.
“We are excited to have our team’s efforts recognized for advanced excellence,” Julia Barnett, Union General Chief Nursing Officer said. “Not only does our staff provide quality care for heart failure patients in the hospital, but we’ve made it a priority to help educate these patients and our community on how to manage their symptoms in order to reduce the need for them to be admitted to the hospital for care.”
Union General Hospital is a licensed and accredited 45-bed, not-for-profit healthcare facility that serves the North Georgia and surrounding Tri-State communities. Over the past two years, Union General has received two recognition’s from the American College of Cardiology including Chest Pain Accreditation and now Advanced Heart Failure Accreditation. This dedication to continuous improvement of heart care proves Union General’s commitment to providing the highest quality heart care to their patients.
The ACC offers hospitals like Union General Hospital access to a comprehensive suite of cardiac accreditation services designed to optimize patient outcomes and improve hospital financial performance. These services are focused on all aspects of cardiac care, including heart failure.
The American College of Cardiology envisions a world where innovation and knowledge optimize cardiovascular care and outcomes. As the professional home for the entire cardiovascular care team, the mission of the College and its more than 52,000 members is to transform cardiovascular care and to improve heart health. The ACC bestows credentials upon cardiovascular professionals who met stringent qualifications and leads in the formation of health policy, standards and guidelines. The College also provides professional medical education, disseminates cardiovascular research through its world-renowned JACC Journals, operates national registries to measure and improve care, and offers cardiovascular accreditation to hospitals and institutions. For more, visit acc.org.
Union General releases new guidelines, designates sick and well clinicsHealth, News, Press Release March 27, 2020
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – In a press release issued by Union General Health System, the medical facility is updating its operating procedures and establishing sick and well clinics in the community.
In response to the Blairsville City Council’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Emergency Ordinance, Union General Health System will no longer perform elective procedures/diagnostic testing, until further notice. The decision to perform procedures will be on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the patient’s physician, based on the needs of the patient.
*If you have a procedure or diagnostic testing that has already been scheduled, you will be contacted by the hospital if it needs to be postponed or rescheduled.
Beginning on Monday, March 30th, Union General Health System will designate certain clinics as either sick clinics or well clinics. Union General Family Medicine will be designated as a sick clinic seeing both sick children and sick adults, Union General Pediatrics will be designated as a well clinic only performing well-child visits and the Union General Hospital Young Harris Clinic will be designated as a well clinic only performing well-adult visits.
As a reminder, for the safety and well-being of our patients and staff, Union General Hospital and Chatuge Regional Hospital, are currently on lockdown, until further notice. All doors are locked and will remain locked except the Main Entrance/Emergency Room Entrance at Union General Hospital and the Emergency Room Entrance at Chatuge Regional Hospital. No visitors will be allowed until further notice.
If you need treatment at either facility, a wellness screening will be performed. A series of questions will be asked and your temperature will be taken. If you have a fever and respiratory symptoms and have traveled within a widespread affected area within the past 14 days, or had exposure to someone with a confirmed COVID-19 case, please ask for a mask immediately.
All Union General Health System affiliated facilities have taken COVID-19 precautions. Some of these include, the Union County Nursing Home and Chatuge Regional Nursing Home are no longer allowing any visitors into their facility to help protect the health of their residents. The Union General Wellness Center and Union General Hospital Suches Clinic have closed indefinitely to help reduce the spread of the virus.
Union General told Fetch Your News that its respective nursing homes are following CDC guidelines for long-term care facilities. These guidelines include:
- Restrict all visitation except for certain compassionate care situations, such as end of life situations
- Restrict all volunteers and non-essential healthcare personnel (HCP), including non-essential healthcare personnel (e.g., barbers)
- Cancel all group activities and communal dining
- Implement active screening of residents and HCP for fever and respiratory symptoms
COVID-19 is being increasingly reported in communities across the United States. It is likely that SARS-CoV-2 will be identified in more communities, including areas where cases have not yet been reported. As such, nursing homes should assume it could already be in their community and move to restrict all visitors and unnecessary HCP from the facility; cancel group activities and communal dining; and implement active screening of residents and HCP for fever and respiratory symptoms.
Here’s a copy of the CDC emergency preparedness checklist for nursing homes.
For more information on COVID-19 and the latest updates to Union General Health Systems facilities, please visit www.UnionGeneralHealthSystem.com.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dh2dCWk85Zw
“Lockdown”: Union General and Chatuge Regional close to visitorsAnnouncements, Community March 17, 2020
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – For the safety and wellbeing of our patients and staff due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), Union General Hospital and Chatuge Regional Hospital, will both be on lockdown effective immediately. All doors will be locked and remain locked except the Main Entrance/Emergency Room Entrance at Union General Hospital and the Emergency Room Entrance at Chatuge Regional Hospital. No visitors will be allowed until further notice.
If you need treatment, you will be asked a series of questions and your temperature will be taken.
If you have a fever and respiratory symptoms and have traveled within a widespread affected area within the past 14 days, or had exposure to someone with a confirmed COVID-19 case, please call us from your car at (706) 745-2111 or ask for a mask immediately!
Most elective procedures will continue for now, but please consult your physician to discuss whether or not your procedure should be delayed. COVID-19 screenings and precautions will be taken before, during and after your procedure.
Union General Health System owns and operates 21 affiliated facilities within the Tri-State area. All of the other affiliated facilities have taken precautionary COVID-19 measures as well. Some of these include, the Union County Nursing Home and Chatuge Regional Nursing Home are no longer allowing any visitors into their facility to help protect the health of their residents. The Union General Wellness Center has closed indefinitely to help reduce the spread of the virus. The Union General Child Care is only providing care for health care worker employees at this time so they can continue working and providing care to our community. All of the affiliated clinics and doctors’ offices will be screening their patients before providing treatment to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19.
Union General Hospital’s community events/meetings have been canceled until further notice. For more information on the COVID-19 and the latest updates to Union General Health Systems affiliated facilities, please visit www.UnionGeneralHealthSystem.com.
Feature image courtesy of the hospital’s Facebook page.
Full scenario for upcoming Towns-Union active shooter trainingNews April 24, 2019
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Officials are in the process of planning a full-scale emergency response drill in Towns and Union Counties, consisting of a prison break and active shooter scenario. Meetings were held April 15, and today, April 24, at the Emergency Operations Center in Blairsville. The exercise is scheduled Friday, May 3, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The drill is directed jointly by the Georgia Mountains Healthcare Coalition and the Northeast Georgia Health System. The purpose is to review local and regional coordination in an effort to address preparedness gaps and identify areas for improvement in response to an active shooter scenario. Locations of the training will include a Hiawassee doctor’s office and Union County Farmers Market. Medical response evaluations will occur at Chatuge Regional and Union General Hospitals. Multiple “casualties” and “fatalities” will ensue during the mock crisis.
The focus in Towns and Union Counties is to review the response, coordination and communications among community partners. To the extent possible, organizers asking for emergency agencies to participate as much as possible considering their own available resources. The more effort that is exhibited towards situational realism, the better the training, the manual for the drill reads.
The dramatization script accompanying the training follows:
Local law enforcement, fire and rescue crews, and emergency medical staff will participate in the drill. “The exercise is written with the healthcare organizations goals in mind, but it offers an opportunity for the community to be involved for training and skill development within the discipline of each group,” the situational manual explains. “The National Planning Scenarios and the establishment of the National Preparedness Priorities have steered the focus of homeland security toward a capabilities-based approach. Capabilities-based planning focuses on planning under uncertainty, since the next danger or disaster can never be forecast with complete accuracy. Therefore, capabilities-based planning takes an all-hazards approach to planning and preparation that builds on capabilities which can be applied to a wide variety of incidents.”
Towns County renews medical flight coverage with Air MethodsNews June 2, 2019
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw recently announced insurance coverage renewal with emergency medical flight service, Air Methods, stating that Towns County citizens will be covered by the program, free of charge, for yet another year. The insurance program costs the county $14,000 annually, and the commissioner stated that while citizens will receive the same service at the same cost as in the past, a financial cap limit was placed on transports. “It doesn’t matter how many people are flown out, the cost remains the same,” Bradshaw told FYN. “However, the county will pay $700 per flight, and for example, if only five people are flown out this year, it would amount to only $3,500.”
“Air Methods is the helicopter service based at Union General Hospital which is the membership being paid for by Union General Hospital, Chatuge Regional Hospital, and both Union and Towns County Commissioner’s Offices,” a spokesperson with Union Generl Hospital explained. “This free membership covers you locally, as well as in 48 states throughout the country, where Air Methods helicopters are based. For instance, if you are a resident of Union or Towns County and go to Florida on vacation and needed to be life-flighted, as long as you use an Air Methods Company Medical Helicopter, you would be covered under the membership being paid for by Union General Hospital, Chatuge Regional Hospital, and Union and Towns County Commissioner’s Offices.
“On average, a medical helicopter flight in this area costs in the range of $30,000 to $50,000. Residents of Union and Towns Counties will not have any out-of-pocket expenses for them to use an Air Methods Medical Helicopter in an emergency situation. Any resident of Union or Towns Counties that use the Air Methods helicopter will receive a bill in the mail; however, the membership will take care of what the insurance does not cover. If someone does not have insurance this program will pay all of the costs. Proof of residency will be required to be sent in with the bill.”
Emergency medical providers to participate in active shooter drillNews April 15, 2019
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Georgia Mountain Healthcare Coalition, which consists of Chatuge Regional and Union General Hospitals, is planning an active shooter drill designed for emergency medical providers. The four hour drill will take place in early May in Towns and Union Counties. In sum, the exercise will involve a prison break and active shooter scenerio. Chatuge Regional Hospital in Hiawassee and Union General Hospital in Blairsville will provide mock treatment for 15 “victims.”
Georgia’s Healthcare Preparedness Program is directly funded by the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) through the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP). HPP’s mission is to prepare the health care system to save lives through the support of regional health care coalitions (HCC). HCCs are groups of health care and response organizations that collaborate to prepare for and respond to medical surge events. HCCs incentivize diverse and often competitive health care organizations to work together. They are comprised of Banks, Dawson, Habersham, Hall, Lumpkin, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union and White Counties.
“The exercise is written with the healthcare organizations goals in mind, but it offers an opportunity for the community to be involved for training and skill development within the discipline of each group,” the situational manual explains. “The National Planning Scenarios and the establishment of the National Preparedness Priorities have steered the focus of homeland security toward a capabilities-based approach. Capabilities-based planning focuses on planning under uncertainty, since the next danger or disaster can never be forecast with complete accuracy. Therefore, capabilities-based planning takes an all-hazards approach to planning and preparation that builds on capabilities which can be applied to a wide variety of incidents.
“The Homeland Security and Exercise Evaluation Program (HSEEP) and our own healthcare standards governing bodies emphasize capabilities-based planning. The intent is to identify a baseline assessment of their homeland security efforts. We do this by comparing current capabilities against the Core Capabilities of our established industry standards.”
Evaluation of the exercise is based on the exercise objectives and aligned capabilities, capability targets, and critical tasks, which are documented in Exercise Evaluation Guides (EEG). Evaluators have EEGs for each of their assigned areas. Additionally, players will be asked to complete participant feedback forms. These documents, coupled with facilitator observations and notes, will be used to evaluate the exercise and compile an After-Action Report.
Former Union General Hospital Officials Back in the NewsNews July 12, 2017
Blairsville, GA – John Michael Gowder, more commonly known as Mike Gowder, former Chief Executive Officer of Union General Hospital, Inc., which controlled the Union County entity known as Union General Hospital Authority, was indicted in both Union and Towns Counties on multiple counts of Fraud in Obtaining Controlled Substances (O.C.G.A. 16-13-43(a)(3)) and Violation of Georgia Controlled Substances Act (O.C.G.A. 16-13-30(a)). Gowder was indicted in Towns County in July 5, 2017 on 32 counts and in Union County on July 7, 2017 on 4 counts. Gowder’s associate, former Board Member of Union General Hospital, Inc., Dr. James Lanier Heaton, was indicted in Union County on July 7, 2017 on 44 counts in connection with this case. Due to the large amount of indictments being processed in the Union County Clerk of Superior Court Office, Fetch Your News was not able to obtain hard copies of the Union County indictments on Gowder and Heaton; therefore, we are not yet privy to the substance of the violations they were indicted for in Union County. However, we will update this story with the particulars of the indictments as soon as they are available.
Gowder’s brother, George David Gowder III, and his niece, Jamie Lee Harkins, were both indicted April 20, 2017 on 66 counts in connection with this Union General Hospital scandal (see May 1, 2017 FYN article).
Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at www.fetchyournews.com
Expansions viewed, accomplishments discussed at Union General board meetingBusiness, News March 2, 2018
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – During the Board of Directors meeting Tuesday, Feb. 27, administrators of Union General Hospital got a first-hand look at some the hospital’s newest expansions and renovations on the campus.
Lewis Kelley, chief executive officer of Union General, took officials on a guided tour of the hospital’s forthcoming orthopedic wing to be shared by Dr. Ronald A. Macbeth Jr. and Dr. Douglas Nuelle. The wing features three exams for each doctor as well as one fracture room and one x-ray room to be shared by both physicians. It is large enough to support three total providers and contains a spacious waiting room for patients.
According to Kelley during the tour, the wing is a renovation of one of the oldest areas of Union General and is expected to open the second week of March.
Next, hospitals hopped in vehicles and took a short ride down Deep South Farm Road from the main facility to to get a look at a new two-story medical office facility that will be leased to family practice physician, Dr. Thomas Gary, and Northeast Georgia Cardiology. Gary’s family practice will occupy the top, street-level floor of the new facility while the bottom floor will serve as the new home of Northeast Georgia Cardiology. Gary’s space will consist of 20 exam rooms and will host seven total healthcare providers, according to Kelley. The Northeast Georgia facility will feature state-of-the-art open work space amenities complete with 18 exam rooms, a treadmill room and nuclear stress test room.
Back at the board meeting room within Union General, Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Julia Barnett gave a brief medical staff update for Chatuge Regional Hospital in Hiawassee. Barnett reported the medical staff is working to improve customer service throughout the facility in an effort to improve Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores for the facility. As a result, all bedside nurses are now performing callbacks for all inpatients, Barnett stated.
“We already do those here at Union. I’m pleased to hear (Chatuge) is doing that, so on all their inpatients, observation patients, swingbed patients – so anybody on the inpatient side, they’re having the bedside nurses call for follow-up phone calls … and they have plans to start ER (emergency room) callbacks soon in the future,” Barnett said.
Ryan Snow, assistant administrator, presented an update on the forthcoming Chatuge Behavioral Health facility, set to open March 5 in Hiawassee. “We’re very excited about that,” Snow said.
Snow also stated Georgia Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) Frank Berry recently toured the facility and was pleased the progress at Chatuge. “It was nice to be able to show him some of things that we were looking at (in) expanding our footprint in mental health in Hiawassee,” Snow stated.
Bringing the focus of the meeting to Union General, CNO Barnett reported to the board UGH received a five-star rating according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Hospital Compare website report in December 2017. Barnett went on to say UGH is one of only six hospitals in Georgia to receive such a rating and no other medical facility in the region holds the same distinction. According to Barnett, UGH will hold the five-star rating at least until June 2018 when the newest ratings from CMS are released.
CMS rates over 4,000 hospitals nationwide on its Hospital Compare website and bases its ratings on 57 quality measures within seven areas of focus: mortality, safety of care, readmission, patient experience, effectiveness of care, timeliness of care and the efficient use of medical imaging. Only 337 hospitals across the nation received a five out of five star rating in CMS’ December release.
Barnett also announced UGH was ranked number 43 in the top 100 SafeCare Hopsitals in the nation, which falls in the top 1 percent nationwide in hospital safety. According to Barnettt’s report, UGH was the only hospital in Georgia ranked in the top 100 in this category.
Chief Operating Officer (COO) Michael Gay gave a construction update and stated the hospital would relocating its endoscopy staff to a temporary area within the next two weeks to allow renovation of the hospital’s endoscopy wing. Gay said the construction would likely take 12 to 14 weeks to complete.
Gay also mentioned the new parking employee lot directly across Deep South Farm Road is nearing completion.
“We’re working very closely with the county now to go ahead put in the lights for the crosswalk … but we actually do not want to start utilizing that area until we get those lights up and going. The county said that we’re probably about three or four weeks away from being able to have that completed,” Gay explained.
The COO also read an email he had received from the hospital’s valet parking supervisor, Michael Gailey. Gay reminded the board of how busy the hospital has been recently and said, “One of things that people see when they walk in this building is our valet people.”
In the email, Gailey shared with Gay the story of a couple who had needed to frequent the hospital several times a week for the past six months. Gailey told of the attentiveness and kind service the valet staff had shown to the couple during their visits to the hospital. Recently, the husband stopped by the valet station, and as the attendant offered to retrieve the wheelchair from the couple’s vehicle for the man’s wife, the man told the attendant that was not necessary. The man explained to the attendant his wife had passed away earlier that morning and that his wife told him the night before, “Please go by and tell the attendants what an impact they’ve had on my life.”
“A lot of times we hear a lot of the negatives that go on,” Gay said. “I just wanted to share something that – although it’s such a tough time for this person in (his) life – what this hospital and that valet parking meant to them.”
Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at [email protected]
Dr. David Gowder Indicted on at least 66 counts in Union CountyNews April 22, 2017
Dr. David Gowder, former Board Member of Union General Hospital Authority and Board Member of Union General Hospital, Inc., was indicted by a Union County Grand Jury on Thursday and Friday on 66 counts including improerly prescribing medications and 4 counts of forging another doctor’s name on a prescription, according to a phone interview with Enotah District Attorney Jeff Langley late Friday afternoon. Langley said Jamie Lee Harkins is a co-defendant in the case. Harkins is believed to be Dr. Gowder’s niece and was indicted on four counts of retrieving medications under another person’s name. Dr. Gowder was indicted last year in Fannin County, GA on similar charges.
Mike Gowder, a dentist at one time, and former President of Union General Hospital and Dr. James Heaton, former CEO of Union General Hospital, Inc., have been arrested, but not yet indicted in Union County in connection with this case.
Gail Nicholson Gowder, wife of Mike Gowder, and Virginia Lou Harkins, Dr. Gowder’s sister, and, mother of Jamie Lee Harkins, have also been arrested but not indicted in Union County in connection with this case.
It appears that Dr. Gowder and the Board of Union General Hospital Authority formed Union General Hospital, Inc. which leased Union General Hospital Authority for 40 years, which gave them control of the hospital with little or no public oversight.
Fetch Your News will have more on this story as it unfolds.
Joint Operation Nabs 6 in Prescription Drug Fraud including CEO of Union General HospitalFeatured, Featured Stories, News February 5, 2016
Murphy, NC— Sheriff Derrick Palmer announced the Union County Georgia Sheriff’s Office arrest of James Lanier Heaton, George David Gowder III, John Michael Gowder, Virginia Lou Harkins, Gail Gowder, and Jamie Harkins all who provided Blairsville Georgia addresses, for charges stemming from a joint investigation into prescription fraud.
FYN spoke with officials and the hospital confirms John Michael Gowder is the CEO of Union General.
The joint operation involved members of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Tactical Diversion Squad, the Union County Georgia Sheriff’s Office and the Cherokee County North Carolina Sheriff’s Office. Although the investigation is ongoing to date information has been discovered that would indicate that the ring was operating in Cherokee County North Carolina and may be facing charges here as well.
Sheriff Palmer stated “We enjoyed the opportunity to work with the agencies involved. Sheriff Mack Mason and his Office have been a tremendous ally as we are sending the message No longer can you deal drugs across county and state lines – We will hunt you down and prosecute you.”
Sheriff Palmer encourages any one that has information on this crime or any other to report it. To report crime in Cherokee County you can call the anonymous tip line at 828-837-1344 or email a tip at [email protected] or call 911 if you observe a crime in progress.