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New hospital approved as last government hurdle cleared
Karen House
Dec. 14, 2017, 1:46 p.m.

The 16 acre lot on the left, behind the chain-link fence, is where the county plans to build its hospital. There will be an entrance on Rankin Avenue / US 127, and a secondary entrance on Tram Trail.

Dec. 14, 2017 – A proposed regional hospital for Dunlap cleared the last legal hurdle on Wednesday, Dec. 13, when the Tennessee Board of Health Services approved a Certificate of Need.

We've got all the approval we need to go ahead with it,” Sequatchie County Executive Keith Cartwright said Thursday. “It's a new day!”

The 62,000-square-foot critical access hospital is a cooperative effort between the county and Erlanger Medical Centers, and is expected to cost around $30 million. It is planned for construction over the next two years on a 16-acre lot across from the TN 111 entrance ramp on Rankin Avenue north of Dunlap.

The next step, Cartwright said, is to sign a definitive contract with Erlanger, and to handle that end of it the county has retained the services of Miller & Martin law firm in Chattanooga.

As of today, we are engaging Erlanger in contract negotiations,” he said. “We're working through Southeast Tennessee Development District. (SETD Executive Director) Beth Jones helps us navigate the process.”

The lengthy process in approval that culminated in the Nashville hearing Wednesday required Bledsoe County to relinquish their Certificate of Need so a Certificate of Need could be issued to Sequatchie County. The 46-year-old hospital in Bledsoe County will be closed, and Erlanger will construct a new Emergency Department – similar to the one currently in Dunlap – on the US 127 bypass in Pikeville.

A delegation from Sequatchie County and the City of Dunlap spent two days in Nashville this week, to present the case for the hospital at a public hearing before the state Board of Health Services. Accompanying Cartwright were County Commissioners Tom Vennero, Ed Nunley, Jeff Mackey, and Wayne Clemons. Representing the city was Mayor Dwain Land.

Both Cartwright and Land spoke to the board, and Cartwright gave Land a great deal of credit for their success.

Dwain did a splendid job,” Cartwright said. “I laid out we've got this and this, and then Dwain closed it with what I call the 'dream speech.' He shared the dream.”

The city, he said, plans to help the new hospital with natural gas, water, and sewer service.

I'm grateful for the city's help,” Cartwright said. “We need the City of Dunlap. They are the county's shining star.”

The county has already been approved for the money to buy the land and build the facility, through the Tennessee Loan Pool. Cartwright said.

We will begin grade work this spring, in late March or early April,” he said. “By late 2019 or January 2020, we hope to have it open.”

Under the planned contract, the county will borrow the money to build the facility, signing Erlanger to a 25-year lease in 10-year increments, which will pay for the entire expense.

We will not raise taxes – city or county – to pay for this hospital,” Cartwright said emphatically.

Although the only building planned at this time is the hospital itself, Cartwright pointed out that when the Emergency Department moves into the hospital, the current ED building a few hundred yards south of that site will become available.

That's 12,000 square feet,” he said. “Now, we only get a dollar a year out of that. We could put four or five doctors in that . . . and it won't be a dollar a year!”

The county plans to use Gresham and Smith architect firm to design the hospital, which could possibly be more than one story. Hoar Construction, out of Brentwood, Tenn., will be the contractor for the job.

The current Erlanger Sequatchie Valley Emergency Department will be closed when the hospital opens in two years with its own ER, but the county is considering “repurposing” the building for doctors' offices.