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St. Joseph's/Candler breaks ground on urgent care facility
St. Joseph's UC groundbreaking
Bryan County Commissioner Dallas Daniel, left, Richmond Hill City Councilman Steve Scholar, Richmond Hill Mayor Russ Carpenter, St. Joseph's/Candler President & CEO Paul Hinchey, Premiere Health CEO Steve Sellars at Thursday's groundbreaking on the new $4 million urgent care facility the hospital is building in Richmond Hill. - photo by Jeff Whitten

Longtime St. Joseph’s/ Candler CEO and President Paul Hinchey referenced a similar event nearly 30 years ago Thursday as officials broke ground on a new $4 million urgent care center off Highway 144 near Publix in Richmond Hill.

Hinchey, who’s been CEO at the Savannah hospital since 1993, said he was at a July 1993 groundbreaking for another facility on Ford Avenue with then-Mayor Richard Davis.

“Mayor Davis said ‘We have a big and bright future ahead of us, Richmond Hill and South Bryan county are on the move,’” Hinchey said. “”I believe we’re destined to become one of the finest cities in the Coastal Empire and in Georgia in the years to come,’ and boy was he right. Back then, when we turned dirt there were four doctors out there … and it was an absolutely wonderful day. At that time 144 was a lot smaller than it is today and a lot less traveled. That is no longer the case.”

Hospital officials say the new 10,000 square foot urgent care center, similar to one in Effingham County, should open in September.

Richmond Hill Mayor Russ Carpenter said St. Joseph’s/ Candler is considered by many residents as a local hospital due to its proximity.

He recalled getting a call late at night regarding blankets for senior citizens at a facility in Statesboro and said he reached out to Hinchey, who Carpenter said made it happen with half an hour.

“That’s the kind of personal level of commitment they have,” Carpenter said.

Hinchey also stressed the hospital’s local ownership and management, and said it’s the largest locally owned and locally managed healthcare company in Southeast Georgia, noting that “not one dime you spend at St. Joseph’s will leave Georgia, that $315 million payroll stays right here. Buy local shrimp, and buy local healthcare.”

That and remarks on the difference between costs of visits to an emergency room were apparent allusions to Memorial Health University Medical Center’s plans to build a freestanding emergency room nearby off Port Royal Road. Memorial was purchased for $456 million in 2018 by Hospital Corporation of America, a Tennesee-based for profit hospital.

The hospital announced in 2020 it bought more than 430 acres off Port Royal and Rabbit Hill roads for $9 million with plans to build the freestanding ER.

Richmond Hill then was asked to annex a 46.15 site and rezone it commercial, and both measures were approved in October. Memorial was given a certificate of need by the state in 2020 to build the ER, which hospital officials said would include perhaps a dozen beds for patients and staffed with ER doctors and nurses around the clock.

Based on appeals by St. Joseph’s/Candler, Effingham Hospital and Liberty Regional Medical Center, the state’s Department of Community Health reversed its decision earlier this year and denied the certificate of need to Memorial for the ER in Richmond Hill and Pooler, saying the hospital did not meet DCH’s own requirements.

Memorial officials said they believe the state will change its ruling again.

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