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Local officials and Lake City Medical Center and Suwannee ER staff hold a ribbon cutting Friday as the local emergency room division opened.

LIVE OAK — After months of questions surrounding the sale of the former Shands Live Oak Regional Medical Center to HCA Healthcare, the transition to Suwannee ER at the beginning of the month was rather seamless.

Rick Naegler, the CEO of Lake City Medical Center and Suwannee ER, told the Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners at its May 5 meeting that the move to emergency-only services and the changing of companies on May 1 went off without any real hitches.

He also said they are “vey excited to be here. We can’t be more happy to be part of this community.”

The questions since the Feb. 27 announcement of the sale of the hospital and the move to only an emergency department stemmed around the loss of employees and declining health care in the community with the loss of the other services.

Ronnie Richardson, the District 5 commissioner, asked Naegler at the meeting how many employees were let go from the facility.

Naegler said HCA didn’t let any employees go. Rather, Community Health Systems Inc. shut down the in-patient services before the sale was finalized. As such, he didn’t have the exact number.

According to Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act notices, a total of 162 employees were expected to be affected by the change: 149 at Shands Live Oak Regional Medical Center, 10 at Shands Live Oak Primary Care and three at Shands Live Oak Medical Group.

Naegler did say that Suwannee ER retained 50 employees.

And those employees were energized and ready to work May 1 when Suwannee ER opened, according to board Chairman Len Stapleton.

Stapleton attended a small ribbon cutting signaling the change and said he came away with a different outlook.

“I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the employees,” he said. “It made me feel a lot better.

“The jobs lost, that hurts all of us. But we still have to move forward.”

Naegler said there currently are no plans for the rest of the facility, but it is being left in place, at least for now. He added that while emergency-room only facilities normally don’t have a gift shop, HCA is considering keeping the gift shop here open.

“We came here to be successful,” he said. “As things change, we’re going to be a solid partner and will do what we need to do for the community.

“If I had a crystal ball (before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic broke out), it got really blurry. We’ll do what we can, I promise.”

Jamie Wachter is the editor of the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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