A red-letter day for Columbus is also a big day for healthcare in the underserved parts of rural Georgia.
That was the message delivered as Friday afternoon as Mercer University formally announced a four-year medical campus in downtown Columbus.
The $25 million school will be in a former TSYS building on 11th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.
Nearly six weeks ago, Mercer President Bill Underwood shared the details of the project with News 3.
The announcement at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce was a much-deserved victory lap for the Columbus community that made this happen against long odds.
“Columbus has a very can-do attitude,” Underwood said. “When they are presented with a challenge, their approach has always been how do we do it. And you see that with this endeavor.”
It will bring up to 240 medical school students to the new campus and open in August 2021. But the public-private partnership will send physicians in parts of Georgia that have no doctors.
Speaker of the House David Ralston, who along with Gov. Brian Kemp helped push $9.3 million through the General Assembly for the project says this is about getting more doctors into underserve places in Georgia. Local supporters added more than $14 million to the project.
“An issue we face in Georgia is a shortage of physicians in rural Georgia,” Ralston said. “We have a lot of health-care needs that are going unaddressed in rural Georgia. This will enable us to have great physicians trained here in Georgia go out in rural Georgia and serve the people in that area.”
State Rep. Richard Smith was in the original group that approached Mercer with the idea about eight years ago. At that meeting, he was joined by First Baptist Church Pastor and Mercer Trustee Jimmy Elder, Columbus resident, and Atlanta attorney Pete Robinson and longtime Mercer Trustee Tom Black, who has since passed away.
Smith puts it this way: “This is probably the proudest moment in my political career.”
Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson put it another way.
“We don’t have any idea the magnitude of what today means,” he said, “and we won’t until 10 or 15 years down the road.”