HAMMONTON - When Kessler Memorial Hospital closed its doors in March and AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center took over its emergency room minutes later, many town residents feared the satellite emergency room experiment would be fleeting.
But inside the walls of the defunct hospital, a more than $2 million investment into AtlantiCare's future in Hammonton - a state-of-the-art radiology services center in partnership with Atlantic Medical Imaging - is nearing completion.
AMI AtlantiCare radiology services is expected to be fully operational later this month, as soon it is granted approval from the state Health Department, according AtlantiCare spokeswoman Jennifer Tornetta.
Once opened, the facility will provide medical imaging services - including MRI, CT scanning, digital mammography, ultrasound, digital X-rays and bone density scanning - on both an emergency and outpatient basis.
"The closest facilities where patients could get all these services are probably our hospitals to the east or our competitors to the west," said Jim Kilmer, AtlantiCare's corporate director of imaging services, adding that Atlantic Medical Imaging also provides those services in Mays Landing.
Kilmer said the new radiology center started taking shape within three weeks of Kessler's closing, when AtlantiCare updated the facility's X-ray services from film - which was still being developed by using chemicals in a dark room - to digital.
Then in June, AtlantiCare put a 16-slice CT scan machine, which cost approximately $500,000, in an old fluoroscopic room adjacent to the emergency room. Kessler's emergency room patients previously had to go outside and get lifted into a trailer to receive CT scans, Kilmer said.
"It wasn't unsafe how they were doing it before, but this is much safer for patients because we don't have to take them outside and put them on a lift," Kilmer said. "It also helps the work flow more smoothly because everything is in one place."
AtlantiCare purchased an slightly used ultrasound machine from Kessler, Kilmer said, but then spent about $38,000 on a bone density scanner, $250,000 on a digital mammography machine and $900,000 on an MRI machine that occupies a new, four-room modular building that was fixed to the side of the existing Kessler facility.
"We will be able to have the results in the hands of the patient's doctor within 24 to 48 hours, on average," Kilmer said.
The facility will also have the capability to immediately provide patients with a compact disc with their images on them, Tornetta said.
Carla Wyatt, a spokeswoman for Atlantic Medical Imaging, said AMI and AtlantiCare have had a close working relationship for more than four decades.
"This seemed like a natural fit to expand that collaboration and enter into a new joint venture together," she said.
Wyatt said the facility will have 32 certified radiologist on staff and will create 10 to 15 new jobs once it opens.
Tornetta attributed AtlantiCare's decision to open the facility at Kessler, in part, to feedback from the community advisory group that was formed in the weeks after Kessler's closing to determine what Hammonton's residents and officials viewed the town's health care needs to be.
"AtlantiCare has said all along that they were committed to Hammonton and I think that over the last three to six months, through assembling different properties and opening different services here, that they have proved that commitment to the community," Mayor John DiDonato said. "And as I see it, the community is definitely excited to have them here. I think it means a lot to local residents to have access to a first-class emergency room and a first-class radiology center such as these. "
AtlantiCare also recently opened a wound center on the White Horse Pike. And Tornetta confirmed that in October, AtlantiCare's Board of Governors approved the purchase of a 14-acre property at 219 West White Horse Pike in Hammonton, but she said the purchase of that land and the future plans for it have not been finalized.
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