Erlanger Health System will relocate and upgrade its hospital facilities in the Sequatchie Valley under a $36.9 million plan approved Wednesday by state regulators.
The Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency unanimously voted to grant Erlanger certificates of need to build a 25-bed, $32.6 million hospital in Dunlap, Tenn., and to replace the aging Erlanger Bledsoe Hospital with a new $4.3 million emergency center in Pikeville, Tenn.
There was no opposition to the projects, which Erlanger officials said will be financed by Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and operated by Erlanger to upgrade hospital services for Sequatchie, Bledsoe and Grundy counties.
Joe Winick, Erlanger lead executive who has worked on Erlanger plans for upgrading medical services in the Sequatchie Valley for the past decade, said he hopes to begin construction on the new Dunlap hospital and upgraded Pikeville emergency center next year and complete the facilities within two years.
"We've worked with community leaders and really put together a plan to enhance the health services to those communities," Winick said after the state agency approved the projects. "We are very pleased and I think these facilities will be a tremendous addition to both Dunlap and Pikeville."
Winick said Erlanger's Bledsoe Hospital — built in 1971 — is outdated and too costly to repair. The Dunlap hospital would be better located to serve the entire Sequatchie Valley, he said.
The new critical access hospital in Dunlap will include 25 beds, and a new 3.0 Tesla MRI to provide magnetic resonance imaging services in the Sequatchie Valley.
In Pikeville, Erlanger is planning to build a satellite emergency department on the U.S. Highway 127 Bypass to replace Erlanger Bledsoe Hospital on Rankin Avenue in Dunlap.
Stephanie Boynton, CEO of Erlanger Bledsoe Hospital, said the relocation was the best and most strategic option, enabling Erlanger to "foster access to a medically underserved population encompassing the entire Sequatchie Valley, to include Bledsoe, Sequatchie and Grundy counties."
The $4.3 million project in Pikeville is being financed with tax-exempt bonds issued by Bledsoe County. Erlanger will lease and operate the new facility to repay the bonds.
A similar financial arrangement is planned in Dunlap with Sequatchie County issuing bonds to finance construction of the new $32.6 million hospital, which Erlanger also will lease back and operate to repay the county bonds.
Since 2010, nine rural hospitals in Tennessee have either closed or dropped inpatient services, including Parkridge West Hospital in Jasper, Tenn., Copper Basin Medical Center in eastern Polk County and Starr Regional Hospital in Etowah, Tenn.
But Erlanger officials said they will be able to better serve the growing Sequatchie Valley with the new Pikeville and Dunlap facilities and use Erlanger's main hospital in Chattanooga and its LifeForce helicopters as backup and support for major trauma and other services.
"Erlanger looks forward to embarking on this critically needed and much-welcomed project and providing back-up services, including trauma care, planning, and physician recruitment," Erlanger President Kevin Spiegel said in a statement. "There is no question this latest partnership with our neighboring counties and their officials will have a dramatic impact on population health in Sequatchie Valley."
Dunlap City Mayor Dwain Land, Sequatchie County Mayor Keith Cartwright, Bledsoe County Mayor Greg Ridley, and Beth Jones, executive director of the Southeast Tennessee Development District, all spoke in favor of Erlanger projects during Wednesday's hearing in Nashville.
Winston Pickett, a former school superintendent, county commissioner and current president of the Sequatchie County Chamber of Commerce, said adding a hospital in Dunlap will help attract more residents, businesses and visitors to the Sequatchie Valley.
"We're very supportive of these projects because they will be a tremendous help to our community," Pickett said. "When we finally convinced (Erlanger) to originally build our ER facility in Dunlap (in 2014), it far exceeded their goal and we were able to bring in Puckett EMS and continue to improve our health services. This new hospital will be an even bigger step forward and will do a lot to help our residents and to help new development in our region."
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6340.
This story was updated Dec. 13 at 11:59 p.m.