The new $19 million Neshoba County General Hospital opened Sunday with fanfare, including cheers and applause by a large crowd when the ribbon was officially cut by the hospital administrator surrounded by several hospital, city, county, Tribal and state officials.

CEO and Hospital Administrator Lonnie Graeber credited teamwork, patience, perseverance and "primarily the help of the Good Lord" for the new hospital becoming a reality after nine years of planning.

Graeber told those in attendance that construction would, however, remain ongoing.

Phase 1 will also include renovations to the first floor of the current hospital to accommodate a new laboratory, respiratory department, gift shop and chapel, Graeber said.

Plans also call for the expansion and repaving of the patient/visitor parking lot with new signage. A new courtyard will be constructed between the two buildings and the current hospital entrance canopy removed.

That entrance will be closed and replaced by a store-front corridor from the new hospital to the cafeteria and nursing home for a more direct approach and to architecturally blend the old and need.

"All of Phase 1 is included in our $19 million budget," Graeber said.

In addition, Graeber said by the end of this year, construction would begin on a new outpatient rehab building, providing physical, occupational and speech therapy services.

"And, by this time next year, we intend to begin construction on another medical office building to house family practice, internal medicine and pediatric physicians who care for patients in our hospital," Graeber said.

"Both of these will be located on the west side of our campus at an estimated cost of $3 million to be funded from cash reserves."

Phase 2 of the overall hospital construction project will continue with renovations to the second and third floors of the current hospital to provide overflow inpatient and outpatient beds and the start of OB/GYN services, he said.

"These are in the planning stages with costs and financing still to be determined," Graeber said. "We would hope to have definition of these projects along with a timeline within the next year."

Dr. Jon Boyles, director of emergency services, called the opening of the new facility a "very exciting day" for the community.

"I came here 10 years ago and was told a new building was imminent," Boyles said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

He said the new hospital was the result of a lot of planning, good decisions and hard work.

"Having a state-of-the-art facility makes us all good doctors," he said. "We're here to give you the very best care available."

Board of Supervisors President Keith Lillis said the hospital and nursing home was important to the community's economic development.

He told those in the attendance that the facility employees about 500 people with a $2 million annual payroll.

"There will be 74 additional jobs when all of this is complete," he said.

Mayor James Y. Young also drew laughter from the crowd when he said he, too, heard talks about a new hospital when he joined Neshoba General nearly 25 years ago.

"I got my start here," Young said.

He recalled his time working on the ambulance service, working in the cold and heat, sometimes for long hours.

"There were times when we thought we might not get paid," Young said.

He summed up how he felt about the new hospital with one word: "Sweet!"

Among other speakers was Congressman Gregg Harper, who called the new hospital "a gem."

He said healthcare was vital in attracting new business and industry.

Also during the grand opening, Graeber announced that the hospital had received nine $10,000 donations from individuals, businesses and organizations that will be used to furnish patient rooms.

"We've had several more of these donations pledged in a drive to 25," he said.

"They'll all be recognized by a plaque on a patient room door. We thank all of them for their generosity."