published Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Erlanger Health System eyes new breast cancer center in Chattanooga

ERLANGER REPORTS $2.3 MILLION LOSS

Erlanger is currently $3.8 million in the red this fiscal year after facing a $2.3 million loss during the month of January. At this point last year, the hospital reported losses of $1.9 million.

Financials so far this year:

• July: $1.5 million profit

• August: $1.5 million loss

• September: $700,000 loss

• October: $183,160 profit

• November: $2.4 million loss

• December: $1.4 million profit

• January: $2.3 million loss

INDIGENT CARE

Seven months into the fiscal year, Erlanger has provided more than $50.9 million in uncompensated care, which includes charity care, bad debt and outstanding TennCare costs. $5.9 million of that amount was provided in January.

Source: Erlanger Health System

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    Erlanger tile

Erlanger Health System hopes to open a $1 million "comprehensive breast center" at its Erlanger East campus off Gunbarrel Road within the next year.

The center would encompass breast cancer screening, genetic testing, early detection and treatment all in one location to provide "seamless care," proponents of the new center told Erlanger's Budget and Finance Committee, which approved the initial proposal Monday.

"When I've spoken with physicians in the past, they've felt Erlanger has never had a comprehensive breast cancer center," said Theresa Radeker, administrator of Erlanger East. "A lot of times they'll send their patients to other places for that comprehensive care."

In a proposal to the board, Erlanger officials said that the hospital already houses the "components" of a comprehensive breast center, but that "these services are disjointed and located in several different locations."

The existing breast cancer services at Erlanger's downtown Baroness campus will remain intact, in addition to the center.

During the first year, the center could bring in 2,800 more patients, hospital officials estimated.

"[Erlanger] East has already developed a reputation as a place for women's care and the place to have your baby. This is taking that one step further," said Radeker.

At Monday's meeting, trustees discussed a potential donation of $800,000, which could be put toward the new center's operations.

The project would remodel existing space at Erlanger East, and would mean the addition of a mammography unit to imaging services at the hospital. Radeker said that many services would be covered by existing staff, but there may be some additional hires.

While Erlanger officials did not specifically address how the center might compete with Memorial Health System's MaryEllen Locher Breast Center -- which is a comprehensive breast cancer treatment center -- it was indirectly referenced in Erlanger's proposal to the board.

"Within the Chattanooga market and physician community, there is the impression that there is only one full service Breast Center -- which is not within the Erlanger System," the board proposal states. By establishing the center, Erlanger "will be able to capture a market of customers that currently does not utilize Erlanger for their breast health."

Last December, Memorial announced the creation of its Rees Skillern Cancer Institute -- partially funded by a $3 million donation from Hamilton County Commissioner Fred Skillern and his wife, in honor of their son. That institute will now encompass the MaryEllen Locher center.

During Monday's meeting, Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel said he wanted the hospital to "be the model of everything integrated."

If the full Erlanger board approves the measure at its meeting Thursday, the hospital will form an advisory board to define its course of action. Radeker said estimated construction time is three months.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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