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CHI Memorial is building a new expansion hospital in Catoosa County along Battlefield Parkway between Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe. / Artist rendering contributed by CHI Memorial

CHI Memorial is investing more than $100 million to significantly upgrade and modernize its health care offerings in North Georgia by building a new expansion hospital in Catoosa County along Battlefield Parkway between Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe.

Memorial's new hospital, to be announced Tuesday, will replace the health system's current North Georgia hospital just over five miles away in Fort Oglethorpe at the site of what was once Hutcheson Medical Center, which Memorial took over in fall 2017.

The project represents a fresh start and culmination of a long recovery and recent revitalization for North Georgia's health care market after decades of instability.

"Since I got into office, one of the things I've always wanted us to bring back was good quality health care, a good hospital to the community," said Steven Henry, chairman of the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners. "I've been here all my life, so I was born in the old county hospital. We've always been very blessed to have a good hospital right here locally, and to not have that in the last few years it's been, to me, really challenging."

Even though the old hospital is doing better since Memorial purchased the operating rights, Henry said that it's located too far away from where most people live and work. It's also been difficult to overcome the poor perception left behind by failed leadership in the past, he said.

Erected in 1953 originally as Tri-County Hospital, Hutcheson faced mismanagement, shrinking patient volumes, financial turmoil and eventually bankruptcy in 2015.

"When all that went on with the hospital, it kind of left — I guess — a bad taste in everybody's mouth," Henry said.

The property was purchased shortly after Hutcheson filed for bankruptcy by Valor Bridge, a private company that operated the hospital as Cornerstone Medical Center, which sold the operating license to Memorial in December 2017.

At the time, Memorial also bought Hutcheson's shut-down ambulatory surgery and cancer center on Battlefield Parkway.

(READ MORE: CHI Memorial opens new outpatient surgery center in Catoosa County, Georgia)

The new hospital will be located beside Memorial's Parkway facility, and Henry said that "having a good quality hospital right there on the Parkway is going to be an economic driver."

The Parkway has already seen rapid growth and development, including in terms of health care services, in recent years, said Andrew McGill, senior vice president of strategy, business development and government relations for CHI Memorial.

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CHI Memorial is building a new expansion hospital in Catoosa County along Battlefield Parkway between Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe. / Artist rendering contributed by CHI Memorial

"We expect that to continue and accelerate, actually, and give the region at large a new health care center that provides a lot of different services and specialty care within literally within a few feet," McGill said.

The next step for Memorial will be to get approval for the project at the state level and dive deeper into the planning phase.

Although plans for the project have been about five years in the making, McGill said it's still too soon to say exactly how much the facility will cost and how many patient beds it will house, but he estimates the facility will have between 60 and 140 beds along with the corresponding amount of operating rooms, emergency department bays and new technology.

"Taking this from idea to reality, it's enormous. I don't care if it's a 50-bed hospital or a 600-bed hospital," McGill said. "Now what we're doing is assembling the teams that will be responsible for managing the regulatory phase in the state of Georgia, the planning phase with architects, engineers, et cetera, and then bringing all that to a point where you've got a finished product to put a shovel in the ground. And hopefully, possibly by next spring, we're doing that."

Once construction begins, McGill said it should take about 20 to 22 months to complete, at which point the staff from the old hospital will transition over to the new one.

McGill said that Memorial is building a new hospital rather than remodeling the current one, since Memorial doesn't own that property and because the location isn't convenient.

"Development in particularly Walker and Catoosa has moved east away from where the current facility is adjacent to the military park. What we're trying to do is put it where the people are, in the pathway of daily commerce, so that it's right where you need it to be when you need it," he said.

The new hospital will be designed to be easy to navigate and include the latest technologies and amenities that patients and providers want, McGill said.

"The people of Dade, Walker, Catoosa, Chattooga counties — or however far you want to take it — deserve exactly what the people of Hamilton County have access to on a daily basis without having to drive across the state line or drive south or anywhere else to get hospital care," he said. "There's an infrastructure there that takes care of needs to a certain point, but then the next level of need is the hospital, and we know the current facility is not capable of managing that need. We're so excited to be able to start a project that's going to give them the best hospital care possible there at home."

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or follow her on Twitter @ecfite.

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