A Habersham County firefighter/paramedic is back on the job after getting a new heart valve in a robotic surgery that was the first of its kind ever done in Georgia. Brian Mills underwent a totally endoscopic aortic valve replacement (TEAVR) at Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) Gainesville, and he was able to go home just 48 hours later.

“I asked them, ‘What do I got to do to get out of here this weekend,’” said Mills, 51. “And that’s what we did.”

Aortic valve replacement surgery typically involves opening the patient’s chest, which leads to recovery that can take months, or somewhat less invasive techniques. But Mills’ doctor – T. Sloane Guy, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon with Northeast Georgia Physicians Group (NGPG) Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery and Georgia Heart Institute – chose to use the DaVinci surgical robot. Dr. Guy conducted the whole procedure through a series of tiny incisions in the patient’s right armpit.

“Aortic valve replacement has been done with sternotomy but also through minimally invasive procedures with thoracotomy,” Dr. Guy said. “Those are great operations, but my life’s obsession has been to make incisions smaller and smaller and help patients recover as quickly as possible.”

Mills’ journey to a new aortic valve began when he got a fever that wouldn’t go down. He went to an urgent care center, where tests showed he had an extremely low white blood cell count. He then went to the emergency room at NGMC Gainesville for more tests. Preston Ball, MD, an emergency medicine physician at NGMC, drew cultures to check for infections. The day after Mills left the ER, Dr. Ball called to tell him to come back immediately. Mills had endocarditis, a serious infection of the heart tissue.      

“Brian had lived for years with a leaky aortic valve, and it hadn’t caused him any problems,” said Dr. Ball. “Now, however, the leakage had gotten much worse, either due to the infection or having just progressed over time.”

Mills would need a new aortic valve. Dr. Guy wanted to operate immediately, but Mills says he talked the surgeon out of it.

“I was ready to go home,” Mills said.

The doctors agreed to send Mills home to take IV antibiotics for six weeks. With the infection gone, he would be ready for his new valve. He had a choice between a mechanical valve or a tissue valve.

“With mechanical, they told me it’s one and done,” Mills said. “You are good for the rest of your life.”

Getting a mechanical valve, however, meant taking blood thinner medication.

“With my job as a paramedic firefighter, there’s no way,” said Mills, who served for 17 years as a Hall County firefighter/paramedic before joining the Habersham department a couple years ago. “I would have to worry about nicking or bumping my head and having to bleed. So, we chose the tissue valve and went that route.”

Dr. Guy, who performed the first robotic heart surgery at NGMC Gainesville in February 2023, decided Mills would be a good candidate for robotic surgery – and the rest is now history.

“We did our annual physical training test at work a couple of weeks ago, and it was really crazy how quickly I recover after exertion now,” Mills said. “It’s pretty amazing. Even the person doing the vital signs before and after said, ‘Wow, you recovered quicker than anybody!’ I said, ‘Well, there’s some new hardware in there. It probably does work a little better.’”

NGPG Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery is an integral part of Georgia Heart Institute, Northeast Georgia Health System’s (NGHS) comprehensive heart and vascular program.

To schedule an appointment with NGPG Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, call 770-219-7099. To schedule an appointment with one of Georgia Heart Institute’s cardiologists, visit or call 770-534-2020.



Georgia Heart Institute is the most forward-thinking heart and vascular program in the state and includes one of the largest cardiology practices in the region, including more than 80 practitioners seeing patients at more than a dozen locations. With a multi-disciplinary team of experts treating nearly every type of heart and vascular disease and participating in leading national research, we’re providing advanced care that ensures lasting heart health for generations. Request an appointment and learn more at

The experts of Georgia Heart Institute also form the core of the cardiac care team at Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s five hospitals in Gainesville, Braselton, Winder, Dahlonega and Demorest. It’s all part of Northeast Georgia Health System, a non-profit which serves more than 1 million people across the region. Learn more at


Northeast Georgia Physicians Group (NGPG) brings together over 650 talented physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, midwives and other clinical staff at more than 95 locations across North Georgia. As the state’s sixth-largest physician group, we always have a practice nearby to offer you expert care in more than 40 specialties. See the full list of specialties and locations – and meet our providers – at

NGPG is affiliated with Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS), a non-profit which serves more than 1 million people in 19 counties across the region. As part of NGHS, patients of NGPG have a direct connection to Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s five hospitals in Gainesville, Braselton, Winder, Dahlonega and Demorest. Learn more at


Patients of Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS) can expect improved, safer patient outcomes as well as reduced costs thanks to leading training practices that recently received national recognition.

NGHS’ simulation center was recently accredited by the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, an international organization that promotes the advancement of simulation-based education for healthcare professionals, for providing a safe environment that mimics the actual clinical environment for healthcare professionals to practice their skills.

“This achievement isn’t just a milestone for NGHS, but also a shining example of how dedication, innovation and collaborative leadership can lead to exceptional outcomes in healthcare education and practice,” said Jim Rinehart, director of clinical skills and simulation for Northeast Georgia Medical Center and Graduate Medical Education.

To achieve accreditation, NGHS’ Center for Simulation and Innovation underwent a comprehensive review of its facilities, curriculum, faculty qualifications and adherence to best practices. The accreditation enhances NGHS’ reputation as a trusted institution for healthcare education and attracts top talent, including educators and learners. Additionally, it fosters collaboration with other accredited simulation centers, enabling NGHS to share knowledge and contribute to the advancement of simulation-based education on a regional and national level.

Becker’s Hospital Review, a national trade publication, also recently named NGHS as one of 34 hospitals and health systems across the nation – and the only one in Georgia – with a great simulation and education program. Becker’s cited NGHS’ simulation center for partnering with high schools, colleges, EMS and law enforcement agencies to train more than 6,700 physicians, nurses, medical assistants, physical therapists, first responders, residents, fellows and college and high school students.

            NGHS appeared on the list alongside other hospitals and health systems like Stanford Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Mount Sinai Health System and NYU Langone Health.

Learn more by visiting



Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS) is a non-profit on a mission of improving the health of our community in all we do. Our team cares for more than 1 million people across the region through five hospitals and a variety of outpatient locations. Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) has campuses in Gainesville, Braselton, Winder, Dahlonega and Demorest – with a total of more than 850 beds and more than 1,300 medical staff members representing more than 60 specialties. Learn more at

St. Mary’s awarded on Newsweek’s America’s Best Physical Rehabilitation Centers 2023 list 3:07 pm

The Center for Rehabilitative Medicine (Inpatient Rehab) at St. Mary’s Hospital has been recognized on Newsweek’s list of America’s Best Physical Rehabilitation Centers 2023. This prestigious award is presented by Newsweek and Statista Inc., the world-leading statistics portal and industry ranking provider. The awards list was announced on Aug. 23, and can currently be viewed on Newsweek’s website.

The America’s Best Physical Rehabilitation Centers 2023 list highlights top physical rehabilitation centers from all U.S. states. The nation’s top inpatient rehabilitation facilities (IRFs) were identified based on the following data sources:


St. Mary’s Center for Rehabilitative Medicine helps patients with major disabling conditions such as stroke or multiple trauma return to active living. In addition to 24/7 physician-directed nursing care, patients receive at least three hours a day of physical therapy, occupational therapy and/or speech-language pathology services.

“St. Mary’s is proud to be recognized on Newsweek’s list of America’s Best Physical Rehabilitation Centers 2023,” said Stonish Pierce, Trinity Health Georgia President and CEO, which includes St. Mary’s Health Care System. “We are even more proud that our center was ranked among the top 5 in the state. More than 84 percent of our patients are able to return to a community setting, which is well above the national average for facilities of this kind. This award recognizes the incredible expertise, commitment and skill demonstrated by our Inpatient Rehab team.”

To learn more about the award, visit

Two St. Mary’s hospitals nationally recognized for commitment to high-quality stroke care 3:52 pm

St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens and St. Mary’s Sacred Heart Hospital in Lavonia have received the American Heart Association’s 2023 Get With The Guidelines® – Stroke Gold Plus quality achievement award for their commitment to ensuring stroke patients receive the most appropriate treatment according to nationally recognized, research-based guidelines, ultimately leading to more lives saved and reduced disability.


St. Mary’s has received the Association’s Gold Plus award for stroke care continuously since 2009. Sacred Heart Hospital received its first Gold Plus award for achieving 24 consecutive months of compliance after receiving the Gold Award in 2022 for 12 consecutive months of compliance.


In addition, both hospitals received the Association’s Target: StrokeSM Elite award and were named to the Target: Type 2 Diabetes℠ Honor Roll.


“I am extremely proud of our system’s colleagues and providers,” said Stonish Pierce, President and CEO of Trinity Health Georgia, which includes St. Mary’s Health Care System. “It takes a tremendous amount of commitment, dedication and teamwork to achieve and maintain such a high level of quality 24/7 for months and years at a time.”


Stroke is the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the U.S. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so brain cells die. Early stroke detection and treatment are key to improving survival, minimizing disability and accelerating recovery times.


Get With The Guidelines puts the expertise of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association to work for hospitals nationwide, helping ensure patient care is aligned with the latest research and evidence-based guidelines. Get With The Guidelines – Stroke is an in-hospital program for improving stroke care by promoting consistent adherence to these guidelines, which can minimize the long-term effects of a stroke and even prevent death.


Each year, program participants qualify for the American Heart Association’s stroke awards by demonstrating how their organization has committed to providing quality care for stroke patients. In addition to following treatment guidelines, Get With The Guidelines participants also educate patients to help them manage their health and recovery at home.


To qualify for the Target: Stroke recognition, hospitals must meet specific criteria that reduce the time between an eligible patient’s arrival at the hospital and treatment with the clot-busting drug tenecteplase. In addition to medication therapy, St. Mary’s Hospital also provides 24/7 emergency access to cerebral thrombectomy, which physically removes the large vessel blockages that cause many major strokes.


The Target: Type 2 Diabetes award aims to ensure patients with Type 2 diabetes, who might be at higher risk for complications, receive the most up-to-date, evidence-based care when hospitalized due to stroke.


“We are incredibly pleased to recognize St. Mary’s Hospital and St. Mary’s Sacred Heart Hospital for their commitment to caring for patients with stroke,” said Steven Messe, M.D., volunteer chairperson of the American Heart Association Stroke System of Care Advisory Group and professor of neurology and director of fellowships of neurology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “Participation in Get With The Guidelines is associated with improved patient outcomes, fewer readmissions and lower mortality rates – a win for health care systems, families and communities.”


“Our entire ministry is committed to improving patient care by adhering to the latest treatment guidelines,” Pierce said. “Get With The Guidelines makes it easier for our teams to put proven knowledge and guidelines to work on a daily basis. Studies show that care in compliance with these guidelines can help patients recover better. The end goal is to ensure more people in Northeast Georgia can experience longer, healthier lives.”






The next era of health care for people in Habersham County and surrounding areas is here, as Habersham Medical Center officially became Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) Habersham and joined Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS) on July 1, 2023.

Kevin Matson, who has been with NGHS since 2000, was recently named vice president of regional hospitals for NGHS. This role includes the day-to-day oversight of NGMC Habersham.

“We’re excited to continue caring for the people of this community – many of whom already know and love NGHS,” Matson said. “We’re growing the greater good one step at a time, but this feels like a pretty big leap.”

Patients can expect their care to remain the same, with the same providers and staff they’ve come to know over the years, as a number of Habersham specialty practices became Northeast Georgia Physicians Group (NGPG) during this transition:

Patients will also get to know some new faces, as NGHS has recruited three additional providers dedicated to NGMC Habersham – general surgeon Joseph Rondina, MD; cardiologist Alan Opsahl, MD; and OB/GYN Amy Howard, MD.

“NGMC Habersham also now uses Epic – the same electronic medical record as other NGHS hospitals and offices,” Matson said. “This should improve their experience and overall care coordination across all locations.”

NGMC Habersham will host a free event to celebrate the transition, called Habersham Jam, on Saturday, July 15 from 6 – 9 p.m. Parking will be available at Piedmont University’s Mize Athletic Center, located at 428 Laurel Ave., Demorest, GA 30535, with a shuttle service running every 15 minutes. Guests will be able to enjoy live music, food, games, touch-a-truck and more.

Visit to learn more.


Hamilton Medical Center residents graduate 1:01 pm

Twelve internal medicine physicians recently completed their residencies at Hamilton Medical Center (HMC).

“We are excited to have had another successful academic year and to graduate such exceptional physicians,” said C. Brian Delashmitt, DO, chief medical officer. “Residency training can be very challenging and rigorous. I expect great things from all of them.”

Hamilton has been partnering with medical schools and has had almost 40 medical students rotating in the system during the past year. Medical school partnerships include Medical College of Georgia/Augusta University, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and various other medical schools.


The focus for Hamilton’s resident training is on providing unsurpassed service, with an emphasis on safety and quality outcomes. Residents will have opportunities to care for patients of diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds with an emphasis on caring for those who are medically underserved. Hamilton’s training program features a learning environment that fosters leadership, ingenuity and creative solutions to complex health problems.

Hamilton’s initial institutional accreditation was obtained from the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) in July 2018. The Internal Medicine Program received ACGME accreditation in April 2019.

In addition to time at HMC, each resident participated in rotations at HMC’s internal medicine clinic on Broadrick drive, near the hospital. Services provided at the clinic include complete physical examinations, diabetes management, hypertension (high blood pressure) treatment and minor surgical procedures.

Internal medicine is a discipline of specialists trained broadly and extensively to meet the healthcare needs of most adults. Internists combine knowledge of basic medical science with the humanistic (focus on human welfare, values and dignity) aspects of medicine.

Five of the graduates will continue on with Hamilton.

Graduates and their career or continuing education plans include: Katelyn Boykin, DO, Wake Forest University, infectious disease fellowship; Stefan Canacevic, MD, hospitalist at HMC; Omar Dominguez, MD, hospitalist at HMC; Victoria Gilbert, DO, primary care physician at Hamilton Physician Group – Calhoun; Tomislav Jagatic, MD, traditionalist at Cleveland Clinic, Ohio; Purnima Kabir, MD, University of Alabama Birmingham, endocrinology fellowship; John Lelli, MD, primary care physician, Atlanta; David Nwasike, MD, hospitalist at HMC; Brad Sackfield, MD, East Tennessee State University, oncology fellowship; Daniella Sankovic, MD, Case Western Reserve University, infectious disease fellowship; Kiran Singh, MD, hospitalist at HMC; Kenette St-Gourdin, MD, primary care physician, Atlanta.


Hamilton pilot program supports region’s youngest, most vulnerable babies 7:45 pm

Inside a conference room with dimmed lighting at Anna Shaw Children’s Institute, seated rows of health care workers and community volunteers take turns picking up and swaddling dolls the size of a human newborn.

Instructor Kathi Frankel, owner of Bear With Me Family Physical Therapy in Atlanta, explains in detail where to place the babies’ tiny limbs, how to position their own bodies when transferring the child from one surface to another, and how to assist caregivers in handling their little ones in ways that tune in to their natural reflexes and physiological needs.

It’s all part of the 2 Gen Matters Family Integrated Relationships Based Development Care Initiative being piloted at Hamilton Medical Center to improve outcomes for some of the region’s most vulnerable families. 

Babies whose lives begin with a stay in a neonatal intensive care unit – or NICU – often face an uphill battle even after they’re returned to family care. Not only do those children have developmental delays at higher rates than their peers, their parents and other caregivers face greater challenges too.

NICU stays, while often necessary, are hard on families. Mothers experience higher rates of postpartum mood disorders, children are more likely to have developmental delays, and families must cope with the grief and loss that often come from separation so soon after birth. But a collaborative program being piloted at Hamilton Medical Center aims to reduce that stress as much as possible – and give families a better start.

The care initiative aims to improve outcomes by training health care staff on best practices for supporting babies and families during the vulnerable newborn experience and monitoring for additional support needs as those children grow up. Another key component of the program is pulling in community partners and organizations in the best position to support families as their children grow up.

Hamilton Health Care System is piloting the program, which has plans to expand statewide and beyond. Nikki Pasley, clinical nurse manager for Hamilton Medical Center’s NICU, says the facility is continually striving to improve long-term outcomes for babies and foster connection between those babies and their parents.

“We know how vital it is for mom, dad and baby to be together,” Pasley says. “Ensuring that policies, procedures and staff training reflect a family-centered approach is imperative.”

Suzanne Harbin, director of the Early Childhood Initiative of Northwest Georgia, says it’s all part of an effort to address Georgia’s above-average rate for NICU stays and above-average rate for postpartum mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Georgia has one of the highest rates of maternal death and infant mortality of any state in the country. “We must all pull together to collaboratively find solutions for the health of our mothers and their babies,” Harbin says.

“Tremendous innovation and collaboration is happening within our community for our youngest babies and their parents and caregivers,” Harbin says. “Clinicians are learning, families are being reached in innovative ways, and strategic conversations are happening to further this crucial care initiative for our youngest babies.”

The family-centered approach is a huge focus of the program initiative. Health care workers and volunteers who serve as “cuddlers” are attending ongoing training sessions at Dalton’s Anna Shaw Children’s Institute to better understand ways to support families going through a difficult time. ASCI provides services for children with developmental delays.

Participants are also being trained in using language that is sensitive, supportive and encouraging of families during what for many is one of the most difficult and vulnerable times of their lives.

“We know parents are experiencing intense grief and loss (when they are separated from their babies because of a NICU stay), so maybe this bedside support can help them get to the next level,” says Frankel. “We have a lot of power with the words we say.”

Pasley says she and the staff at Hamilton are “beyond excited” to be piloting the FINE Neurodevelopmental Care Initiative. Led by Frankel as well as Emily Rubin, MS, CCC-SLP, Communication Crossroads; and Arianne Weldon, MPH, Georgia Family Connection Partnership, the initiative kicked off in February with plans to continue training through the end of the year.

“Together with our team of excellent nurses, medical providers and ancillary staff, our goal is to be the place families choose to deliver their baby knowing the needs of their baby and their own needs will be our top priority,” Pasley says.

Harbin says when she was initially contacted by state leaders to see if Hamilton Medical Center would be interested in applying for the grant, she didn’t even hesitate.

“Hamilton Medical Center has been a tremendous place to launch this work for NICU babies, their families and their providers,” she says. “The positive experiences families and babies have at Hamilton will impact them for the rest of their lives.”


SGMC Designated as a Level III Trauma Center, Strengthening Emergency Care Services in South Georgia 1:18 pm

South Georgia Medical Center is proud to announce its designation as a Level III Trauma Center by the Georgia Department of Public Health, a significant milestone in the provision of emergency care services in South Georgia and the surrounding areas. This designation signifies SGMC’s enhanced capabilities to provide comprehensive and specialized care to patients with traumatic injuries. 


As a designated trauma center, SGMC has met rigorous standards and demonstrated the ability to deliver specialized trauma care services promptly and effectively. This designation is a testament to the hospital’s commitment to providing the highest level of care to patients in critical conditions, ensuring they receive the best chances for survival and recovery. 


“We are very excited to be recognized as a Level III Trauma Center and to be a part of the Georgia Trauma System, a highly organized system of care that makes a tremendous difference in the lives of all in our state,” said Ronald E. Dean, SGMC President and Chief Executive Officer. “This designation is a true testament to the hard work and dedication of our remarkable physicians and staff.” 


A Level III Trauma Center is prepared to provide an advanced level of care to trauma patients before they even arrive at the hospital. The designation signifies organized care beginning with emergency medical services, fire, and law enforcement response, and continuing through every aspect of patient care. SGMC’s emergency department has undergone specialized training, developed protocol, and implemented necessary equipment for the immediate assessment, resuscitation, surgical intervention, and stabilization of injured patients.  


SGMC is now one of 10 hospitals designated as a Level III Trauma Center in the state of Georgia. The closest trauma centers are 45 and 90 miles away, a significant distance in the case of time-sensitive trauma care. In addition, SGMC fills a needed gap for a trauma center along Interstate 75 in South Georgia. 


Trauma Program Manager Emily Brown, who has spearheaded the trauma designation effort, emphasizes that this is a tremendous accomplishment that will greatly benefit the residents of our communities and service areas. 


“Our team has worked so hard to bring this program to our hometown hospital to better serve our patients and their families,” she shared. “We are excited about building and expanding trauma care for many years to come to meet our community’s needs.”  


SGMC’s trauma program is equipped with 24/7 coverage by skilled surgeons and specialized staff to care for patients at a moment’s notice. This includes seamless collaboration with related departments such as imaging, laboratory, and surgery to provide safe and efficient care. 


“The hard work of our entire hospital team, as well as the first responder agencies, was highlighted during our trauma survey,” said Dr. Jared Sanders, Trauma Medical Director. “We are so grateful for the support of our hospital and our community.”   


SGMC treats patients who have suffered traumatic injuries from car crashes, motorized vehicle accidents, falls, gunshot wounds, violence, and more. Trauma injuries represent the leading cause of death for people under 44 and the fourth leading cause of death for all ages. 


SGMC’s trauma program also offers injury prevention education and community outreach, regularly collaborating with area first responders to offer emergency training initiatives. 


To learn more, visit 


Patients in north Georgia now have another reason to trust Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) when emergency pain and addiction care are needed. NGMC Gainesville and NGMC Lumpkin are the first hospitals in the state to become accredited by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) in Pain and Addiction Care in the Emergency Department (PACED).

            PACED accreditation recognizes emergency departments with a comprehensive program to provide optimal care for patients suffering from pain and/or addiction using progressive treatment, protocols, training and resources. NGMC Gainesville achieved Gold Level PACED accreditation, and NGMC Lumpkin achieved Silver Level.

“We are thrilled to receive this recognition,” said Angela Gary, Executive Director of Trauma and Emergency Services at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. “Our entire team is dedicated to providing extraordinary care for patients in pain and those seeking addiction support in the emergency department. It is an honor to be one of the few emergency departments in the nation with this distinction.”

To learn more about NGMC’s emergency services and comprehensive opioid use disorder treatment, visit


SGMC Lanier Campus Named Top Critical Access Hospital 4:52 pm

South Georgia Medical Center is proud to announce that the SGMC Lanier Campus has been named a 2023 Top 20 Critical Access Hospital (CAH) Best Practice in Quality. The prestigious distinction was awarded by the National Rural Health Association based on data produced by The Chartis Center for Rural Health. 


To determine the Top 20, NRHA evaluated performance-based metrics of hospitals across the nation to include market share, quality, outcomes, patient perspective, and finance. 


“Critical access hospitals play a vital role in the healthcare landscape, particularly in rural areas where access to quality care can be limited,” shared SGMC Lanier Campus Administrator Geoff Hardy. “We are honored to be the only CAH in Georgia to receive this recognition which is truly a reflection of the hard work and dedication of our entire team, who strive every day to provide extraordinary care to our patients.” 


SGMC Lanier Campus was also recognized for “outstanding commitment to quality improvement” by the Georgia Hospital Association and Alliant Health Solutions in March.  


SGMC Director of Quality Improvement and Patient Safety Scarlett Rivera shared that this recognition is a result of SGMC’s ongoing investment in quality improvement initiatives, staff training, and the implementation of evidence-based practices. “It underscores our dedication to meeting the unique needs of our service communities and exceeding the highest healthcare standards. 


SGMC Lanier Campus is a 25-bed CAH providing acute inpatient care and a variety of other healthcare services to include: imaging, laboratory, emergency, rehabilitation, and swing bed. According to the latest economic impact numbers released for fiscal year 2021, SGMC Lanier Campus had an annual economic impact of $43 million. 


To learn more, visit 

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