- Associated Press - Saturday, February 1, 2014

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - For Hattiesburg Clinic, the next few years appear to be a time of growth.

In a multi-million-dollar flurry of construction, the clinic is expanding its local footprint, with one of the larger projects providing an anchor for Lamar County’s continued growth to the west.

Executive Director Tommy Thornton said the clinic needed to add providers to trim back the figurative lines that have been forming for some services.

“We can gauge that by the wait time to get in to our different departments, so it’s pretty easy for us to gauge the demand,” Thornton said. “If we get out one, two, three months in some departments, then that’s too far.

“People, they’re going to go somewhere else if they can’t find the health care here. They may go to Jackson or the Coast or wherever, so we have to continuously watch that and try and backfill so patients have a reasonable time period that they can get in to see their provider.”

And that’s spurred a spate of construction, which, over a three-year period, will see the clinic add four new medical clinics and a fifth building that will consolidate its administrative offices.

The largest: a 40,000-square-foot, two-story facility located at the southeast intersection of U.S. Highway 98 and Mississippi Highway 589 in the Bellevue community.

Plans call for family practitioners, ophthalmologists and physical therapists from the Lake Serene Clinic to relocate, and the facility also is expected to house obstetrics-gynecology providers.

“We’re pretty excited about expansion out there,” Thornton said. “We feel like in the future, there’s going to be (growing) demands for services that we’ll provide out at that site, so we wanted to have a little room to have some flexibility in that facility, whether we grow ophthalmology or family practice or ob-gyn, there have been some other departments that have talked about locating out there.

“With the growth out there, at some point, that will probably be the center of the whole (area) with the way it keeps moving out Highway 98.”

Thornton said architectural design work on the $10 million Bellevue Clinic should be completed by the end of February. Then comes construction.

“That’ll take, we’re anticipating, about 15 months construction time, so that will put us around mid-2015 before we’re ready to occupy that,” he said. “That’s our plan right now.”

Lamar County approved the site plan for the Bellevue Clinic last summer, and, since then, nearby construction of a gas station has been cleared.

The projects may indicate the genesis of the next stage of westward growth along the U.S. 98 corridor in Lamar County that was derailed by the Great Recession of the late-2000s.

“We’ve known this was coming,” Lamar County senior planner Michael Hershman said. “The recession probably put a damper on it for a couple years, but we’ve known this was coming.

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