Hamilton County eyes options for new Health Department building

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp speaks Monday to members of the Hamilton County Regional Health Council during a meeting at the Health Department.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp speaks Monday to members of the Hamilton County Regional Health Council during a meeting at the Health Department.

Plans to rebuild or relocate the Hamilton County Health Department — located on East Third Street next to Erlanger Medical Center — are underway, Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp announced Monday.

Speaking during a Regional Health Council meeting at the Health Department, Wamp said his office has been working with other stakeholders, including the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, for more than a year to determine a course of action.

Both Erlanger and UTC's campuses neighbor the prime real estate where the Health Department currently sits, and the three entities already partner on various efforts, such as helping train students to enter the public health workforce.

"We have made a lot of progress toward what will be a multiparty agreement that I'm very hopeful we'll be able to announce in the next few months, and it would involve all those parties," Wamp said.

(READ MORE: State Building Commission gives green light for UTC to proceed on $60.8 million health sciences building)

While he didn't indicate exactly where the modernized Health Department would go, Wamp said it would remain within the Third Street "health care corridor," which is near Chattanooga's three major hospitals and numerous other prominent providers.

"Evidenced by the 60-plus-year history of this facility, it's a kind of generational decision that we've got to get exactly right," he said. "And we believe that it's in our community's best interest, it's in UTC's best interest, it's in Erlanger's best interest for the Health Department to remain in this corridor."

In addition to the current aging facility needing upgrades, Wamp said a new facility will help the county better reach young children and families — which has long been a key role of many department services as well as a focus of Wamp's administration.

Some of the Health Department programs focused on child health include lead poisoning prevention, child immunizations, pregnancy and infant loss prevention, newborn genetic screenings, and helping administer the federal Women, Infants and Children Program, often referred to as WIC.

"We're going to bring new county money to bear to support efforts primarily to support, encourage and educate parents of the youngest members of our society," Wamp said.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County mayor shares public health goals, works to learn more from local medical community)

Health Department Administrator Sabrina Novak said in an interview after the meeting that public health needs have changed dramatically since the current facility was built in 1960.

"Being able to intentionally design and either renovate or build from the ground up specific for public health is super exciting, because then we can make it more user friendly, more efficient for staff and more inviting," Novak said.

For example, the current Health Department has lots of hallways connecting small areas, which makes getting from point A to point B difficult for both the public and staff.

"If we can organize our programs in a way that allows us to be almost like a hub, it's very easy to get the client between those services versus having to do that via telephone or changing multiple floors to get them to where they really need to be," she said. "It's a great opportunity, and we're really excited that the mayor's office is looking toward that opportunity."

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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