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Health care industry booming in Golden Isles
When Diana Cicchiello was considering where to move her dental practice, her first visit to the Golden Isles felt like home.

Although attracted to the coast, it was the community itself that caught her eye because of the potential for growth and being able to serve a population that needs help, she said.

"I think there's a population that's under-served here, and that's especially why I moved down to Exit 29 (from Interstate 95)," Cicchiello said. "You can tell a lot about the community by industry, health care and education, and we have all the basics of a good, modern community."

Across the county, health care businesses are popping up, and long-standing community health care services are adding staff. The health care sector of the local economy withstood the recession and now is expanding.

In fact, in the South Coastal Georgia region, the health care industry was the only one to grow from 2007 to 2010, according to Don Mathews, professor of economics at College of Coastal Georgia.

"During the recession, heath care was the only major industry with employment growth on the South Georgia coast, and in Georgia, for that matter," he said. "Having such a large health care sector thus helped our local economy during the recession."

That's a similar perspective of the company building the Benton House Senior Living facility on Scranton Road in Brunswick, scheduled to open early next year.

When managers of Principal Senior Living Group first looked at Brunswick as a potential location 10 years ago, it wasn't the right time, said Dave Winters, a partner in the agreement that finally brought the senior living home here.

"It was still a little early and (the area) wasn't big enough," Winters said. "But now we've found such a strong market here and we have seen success even through the recession."

Having a strong health care system is key when choosing a place to locate, Winters said.

"We've considered places with a good market for senior living, but without a strong health care system we didn't go there," he said. "People are staying (in the Golden Isles) because of the health care available."

Recent reports that health care spending is on the rise after a few years of decline is a sign of economic recovery and also a possible indication of expansion, he said.

The Georgia Department of Labor estimates that about 3,500 persons work in health care in Glynn County and about 5,000 to 6,000 are employed in the six-county region.

A large portion of those employed are a part of the Southeast Georgia Health System. The health system is Glynn County's largest employer, with 2,278 employees. That's up from 2011, said Gary Colberg, system chief executive officer.

"We're a large economic engine, a $510 million business," Colberg said. "We're a business that has to be utilized so it allows other businesses to grow."

Pharmacies, senior care and physical therapy are just a few of the businesses that coordinate and work with the health system.

The addition of nearly 100 employees since 2011 to the system includes 18 physicians. This, combined with the expansion of services and state-of-the-art technology, makes the hospital a force to be reckoned with.

"Obviously, you would shop to see where you could get the best care," Colberg said. "We need to ensure the best quality care, and that includes equipment."

Cutting-edge technology attracts physicians who are trained in robotics, Colberg said.

The addition of physicians and the expansion of services like the CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System and Center for Education Development, is a way the health system stays ahead of the curve and ready to serve a diverse and growing population.

"I see us, as a community, continuing to support the health system here and continuing to grow," Colberg said. "We'll try to expand our access points to the people and continue to expand our services."



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