When Keith Cartright became Sequatchie County mayor two years ago, the first thing he did after being sworn into office was to call Erlanger Health System to urge the hospital to restore emergency medical service to Dunlap, Tenn.
"Getting ER service back in Sequatchie County was my highest priority because I know that medical care is critical not only to the care of our residents but in business recruitment," Cartright said.
On Tuesday, after years of negotiations and an investment of $250,000 each from the county and the U.S. Appalachian Regional Commission, Erlanger opened an ER facility in Dunlap as an extension of the Erlanger Bledsoe campus in Pikeville, Tenn.
In the first 10 hours after the 12,000-square-foot facility opened Tuesday morning, 13 patients had already come to the new facility with medical emergencies -- one of whom was flown by Erlanger's Life Force helicopter to the main campus.
"This is going to save someone's life -- I'm confident of that," Dunlap Mayor Dwain Land said about the new Dunlap emergency room facility. "But beyond its important, life-saving function, this new ER also is an important cornerstone for our community to recruit more businesses and retirees to locate and live here."
Among Tennessee's 95 counties, Sequatchie County ranked 90th in the overall health of its citizens, and the lack of a hospital or emergency room has been a deterrent to many businesses and residents from wanting to live in the county, Land said.
"This is an important day for our city," the mayor said.
Grandview Hospital operated the North Valley medical clinic and emergency room in Dunlap from 1993 until August 2010 when it was downgraded to an urgent care center due to financial losses. The medical facility, which is owned by the county, has continued to house the county's ambulance service and was rented for a while to a local physician.
Stephanie Boynton, CEO of Erlanger Bledsoe Hospital, said the 25-person staff at the new Dunlap ER will provide around the clock service for both children and adults, treating everything from sports injuries to major illnesses. It includes five treatment areas and radiology and laboratory services. Emergency medicine physicians will be on site around the clock, and an on-site helipad is available for trauma transport via Erlanger's LifeForce air ambulances.
Erlanger projects the Dunlap ER will have 5,000 visits in its first year of operation.
Americans make 125 million visits to emergency rooms every year, but the number of ERs in the country has dropped by 20 percent in the past decade, primarily due to closings in rural areas.
The new Dunlap ER is one of six emergency rooms in the Erlanger Health System, and the only stand-alone ER in the hospital network.
Erlanger opened its Erlanger Bledsoe campus in Pikeville, Tenn., three year ago, and Parkridge Health System bought Grandview Medical Center in Jasper, Tenn., earlier this year.
"There's certainly a great need for emergency services in Sequatchie County as we have seen already from how busy we have been our first day," Boynton said.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.