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Erlanger Health System plans to build new regional hospital in Dunlap

Dunlap City Commissioners (l-r) Jeff Johnson, Jeff Harmon, Allen Jones, and Judy Layne, along with Dunlap Mayor Dwain Land (far right) present a check for $10,000 to Erlanger representative Joe Winick (2nd from right) and the Sequatchie County Commission, toward preparation for building a new hospital.

Dec. 19, 2016 -- Erlanger Health System intends to build a regional hospital in Dunlap, according to company spokespeople who addressed the Sequatchie County Commission at their meeting Monday night, Dec. 19.

Joe Winick, senior vice-president for development, said the deciding factor in locating the 25-bed facility in Dunlap was the progress the area had shown since the location of the Erlanger-Sequatchie Emergency Department here a little over a year ago.

"I am honored to be here because of what you have done," Winick said.  "I am particularly pleased that we have collaborated together to improve the health of the Sequatchie Valley.  Just three or four years ago, Sequatchie County was rated number 91 out of 95 counties in Tennessee (in health).  Now, you are number 63.  That's huge progress."

Bringing a full-size hospital to the valley would provide local care, which has been shown to be more effective than taking a patient to a metropolitan area that is an hour or more away from home.

The plan is to build a hospital adjoining the current Erlanger-Sequatchie Emergency Department on Rankin Avenue that will serve the Sequatchie Valley, as well as surrounding counties -- Grundy, Van Buren, and Hamilton.  Erlanger Health System submitted a Letter of Intent to the Sequatchie County Commission on Dec. 9, and at Monday night's meeting, the Commission voted unanimously to adopt Resolution 702-2016 establishing an "intergovernmental" arrangement to bring the hospital to the county.

Present in the audience were Tennessee State Senator Janice Bowling and city officials from Dunlap.  Mayor Dwain Land and the City Commission presented a check for $10,000 to the County Commission to help cover the cost of initial planning for the hospital.

Displaying an artist's rendering of "what it can be," Erlanger-Sequatchie CEO Stephanie Boynton explained that the proposed medical center will employ 75-80 people, compared with the 46 now working at Erlanger-Sequatchie ER.

"This will be a significant boost to the economy in the entire Sequatchie Valley," Boynton said.

County Executive Keith Cartwright described the lengthy process that led up to this week's announcement, culminating in a work session Dec. 15 between local governmental leaders and the South East Development District (SEDD) to discuss the proposal.

Several of the county commissioners then had questions for the representatives from Erlanger:

Comm. Tom Vennero asked if surgical care would be offered.

"Yes," Boynton said, "this would include two operating rooms."

"Most common procedures can be done at a community hospital," Winick added.  "Outcomes are often better than at a major academic medical center."

Comm. Jeff Mackey pointed out that Erlanger serves over 60 counties in Tennessee.  He asked if this is the first community-based regional hospital they have attempted.

"This would be the first," Winick said.  "Grundy County just received a grant to put tele-medicine in there.  But this would be a prototype.  We're looking at other communities, even as we speak."

Comm. Ed Nunley wanted to know if the current ER would stay.

"We will keep the ER there," Boynton said.  "We hope to expand on that location."

Comm. Paul Powell said he had heard a lot of favorable comments about the ER.

Comm. Jeff Barger asked it there might be plans for future expansion, after the hospital is built.

"We would always plan for tomorrow," Winick said.

Comm. Nunley asked if 25 beds would be enough.

"If it's not," Boynton responded, "that would certainly be a good problem to have."

Cartwright said this plan is being "fast-tracked," and Boyton pointed out that, with the ER, "it took four years to make the decision, and it took us four months to open it."

The roll call vote was unanimous, to proceed with plans to build the hospital.

Erlanger-Sequatchie Emergency Department CEO Stephanie Boynton displays an artist's rendering of how the new hospital might look.

Sen. Janice Bowling addressed the meeting briefly, after the vote.

"This looks like a Christmas present," she said, "and a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year!"

"Everybody here wants Sequatchie County and Dunlap to be the best we can be," Carwright said.  "We have got to be set up to be the best.  We've got to make our community viable for industry, and for retirees.  Healthcare is key to that."

Also speaking at Monday's meeting was County Emergency Management Director Winfred Smith, who introduced Melissa Mackey, the person who has been coordinating assistance to victims of the Nov. 29 tornado.

Mackey announced a "community clean-up day" planned for Dec. 31, to rally volunteers to help clean up the mess the storm left behind.

"We want to get some pretty back," she said.  "Let's end the year with a day of service to our community.  There are families going home every day, looking at the mayhem and destruction, and it brings it all back for them."

Melissa Mackey announces plans for a Community Cleanup Day, to help areas of the county devastated by the Nov. 29 tornado recover, as State Sen. Janice Bowling (left) and County EMA Director Winfred Smith (right) listen.

Mackey suggested that the county could help by cleaning up some of the roads, where trees are down and debris is still up in the trees from the EF-2 tornado that wrought a path of destruction through the southeast corner of the county.

Smith gave the County Commission the statistics of destruction:  seven homes were destroyed, eight other buildings destroyed, 19 homes "affected," and eight other buildings affected -- damaged in some way.

Southend Fire Chief Ken Herron also spoke, giving a brief account of his department's response to the disaster.  One of his firefighters lost the roof off his house, but still was out helping to rescue others, he said.

"I'm thankful nobody was killed," Herron said.  "The first we got to was the mobile home you've all seen pictures of.  I didn't think anybody would walk out of there alive, much less four people."

Herron thanked the volunteer firefighters who responded that day, as well as the Sequatchie County Rescue Squad, and people in the neighborhoods that went door-to-door checking on their neighbors.

In other business, the Sequatchie County Commission:

o  Voted unanimously to transfer $32,000 from the Sheriff's Department Drug Fund to Motor Vehicles, so Sheriff Ronnie Hitchcock can buy a car to replace one that has a blown engine.

o  Approved the appointment of three Notaries.

o  Heard Will Pitt of the Puckett EMS report 148 calls in November, with over half of those transported to the Erlanger-Sequatchie ER and three air-lifted to Chattanooga.  Pitt also said two of Puckett's personnel recently completed training as critical care paramedics, with the company reimbursing their tuition.

o  Heard Sheriff Hitchcock report 662 calls from Dispatch during November and 61 people incarcerated, with an average jail population of 100 inmates.

o  Heard Sequatchie County Director of Schools Pete Swafford announce the county schools will let out for Christmas vacation Dec. 20 and reconvene Jan. 9.  Swafford asked that everyone who has care of a child read to that child at least 20 minutes every day.

The Sequatchie County Commission will meet the fourth Monday of each month, during January and February, to avoid conflict with federal holidays.  Meetings begin at 7 p.m. in the upstairs courtroom at the Sequatchie County Courthouse in Dunlap, and are open to the public.