- 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.

“We’ve anticipated it, and now it’s more a matter of making the parts fit together, making sure everyone gets through the process, make sure people pay their fair share so the taxpayers aren’t picking up the tab, and make sure as growth is coming in and we accommodate it, that we’re not causing problems for ourselves later down the road.”

Hattiesburg Clinic saw the completion of one project last fall, the $4 million Dermatology South Clinic.

“It is more convenient for the patients to have separate sites,” Thornton said of the clinic’s fourth dermatology facility. “It may not be (more convenient) from an administrative standpoint, but it is for the patient, so that was the thrust. We’ve been able to recruit three additional providers since we opened that site.”

Three more Hattiesburg projects are either underway or scheduled to begin, including:

- An $8 million administration building.

“At our main site, as we’ve had space needs for the main clinic, we decided to consolidate our administrative staff in a separate location so that we can add more providers at our main clinic facility,” Thornton said. “It’s a little more convenient for our patients to come here because we’re able to provide the lab, the imaging, the consultants who the patients are seeing, the cardiologists and pulmonologists, they can come to one place and see those specialty doctors in one visit.”

He said space was needed in large part because of a joint, family practitioner residency program with Forrest General Hospital. The first class of six residents is scheduled to begin the three-year program in July.

“Eventually it will grow over three years to 18 residents, and they’ll spend about half their time over here at the clinic,” Thornton said. “They’ll actually help give patients another option. If they don’t have a primary care doctor, they can see our family practice residents, who will be supervised by five family practice physicians.”

- A new Children’s Clinic.

Thornton said that project “will probably get started in the next 30 days. Plans are nearing completion, so we’re hoping to do that one in about 12 months. We have a new provider who joins us this fall, so we’re going to be really tight with space until we get the new facility going.”

-A new Pediatric Clinic.

“We’re expanding both of our pediatric facilities,” Thornton said. “We have two large pediatric facilities here in Hattiesburg, and both of them are in fairly old facilities. We’re adding providers in both of those groups, so we’re in the process of developing plans for both of those facilities to relocate.

“The Pediatric Clinic will be a little bit behind (the Children’s Clinic) project because, from a design standpoint, we’re still working on that, but the two are not going to consolidate. It would be a huge facility if we tried to put them altogether. There are approximately 10 pediatricians in each group, maybe eight in one, and 10 in the other.”

He said population growth in the region and especially the growth of an aging population requiring more medical services, has led to greater demand for providers.

“Employers increasing the cost share with their employees, increasing the deductible, those are kind of drags on the cost of health care, but we think that other factors are going to outweigh that, at least in our marketplace,” Thornton said. “The population growth, the aging population, and really just the health awareness of folks are going to continue to drive enough market demand to grow the services.”

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Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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