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In this 2009 staff file photo, Sharron Mitchell, program development coordinator, right speaks to Lynne Shaw, a wellness program patient, as she works out at the North Georgia Healthcare Center in Ringgold, Ga.

North Georgia Healthcare Center has added a new medical wing to its facility in its efforts to reduce wait times for local patients.

With residents pouring in from Catoosa, Walker, Whitfield, Dade and Chattooga counties, the Ringgold-based nonprofit health care center sees approximately 13,000 visitors each year, said CEO DeLaine Hunter.

Before the new wing was opened, patients could have waited up to an hour or more to be seen, depending on their provider, Hunter said.

Costing about $60,000, the expanded area includes three exam rooms and an office for medical personnel. Since opening the new wing earlier this spring, Hunter said the center has gotten much closer to its goal of getting patients into an exam room within 15 minutes of their scheduled appointments.

She hopes to see the center get closer to that goal with the implementation of electronic check-ins, which the health care center is planning to launch within the next month.

"It's all about efficiency and quality," she said. "Quality care, to me, involves a lot of things, and one of those is having short wait times."

Hunter said the expansion has also been a win for the center's health care providers, who had to share exam rooms before the new wing was built. Now, each of the four medical professionals has three exam rooms.

"It's about being able to have those providers have their own area, their own space, their own nurses to where they are efficient in what they're doing," Hunter said.

The center is also in the process of expanding its practice into behavioral health this month, and she believes the additional space will help make that transition smoother.

The center is holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new wing on Thursday, Aug. 16 at 4:15 p.m.

The ceremony comes just in time for National Health Center Week, which runs Aug. 12-18 this year. Throughout the week, NGHC will celebrate the occasion through patient appreciation, which will come in the form of free blood pressure tests, among other services. The center is also expecting to have a "legislative day," during which the staff will show state representatives some of the work the center is doing.

Email Myron Madden at mmadden@timesfreepress.com.

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