The City of Chattanooga is pledging $1 million over the next four years to help Erlanger build a new Children's Hospital "to honor the victims of the Woodmore bus crash."
Mayor Andy Berke was joined by a majority of the city council for a press conference at Children's Hospital in making the announcement.
Although the funding will have to be approved each year by the city councilmembers—all of whom, along with Berke, are seeking re-election in March—there seemed to be broad agreement that this was a good use of the city's capital budget. Council members Chris Anderson, Carol Berz, Yusuf Hakeem, Jerry Mitchell, and Ken Smith attended the press conference, and Berke said councilmen Russell Gilbert and current council chairman Moses Freeman supported the measure.
In an interview prior to the announcement, Berke said he made the decision after watching Erlanger's response to the Nov. 21 Woodmore bus crash, when more than two dozen schoolchildren were rushed to the Children's Hospital emergency room. Six children were killed in the accident.
While Berke praised the professionalism of all those who cared for the children, he said that conversations with hospital staff had convinced him of the need for a new facility.
"We had first responders doctors, nurses, and administrators who poured their hearts and souls into caring for these children and their families," he said. But he said he had also been told by hospital staffers that crowded conditions meant that critically injured patients and their families were forced to share a large common space, because the hospital did not have enough private rooms.
"I heard from nurses what it was like working on two severely injured kids, only separated by a curtain, where families could hear what others are saying, what's going on with a child," Berke said.
He said he hoped the city's commitment will spur others to make donations.
Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel thanked the mayor and council members and said the hospital system is committed to building a "world class" children's facility.
Erlanger is in the middle of a campaign to raise a total of $40 million for the initial phase of the new hospital, an outpatient facility that would be located on the south side of Third Street. The hospital has committed $11.5 million of its own money and has raised $14 million thus far, hospital officials said.
Erlanger officials say they need to have commitments for 85 percent of the total before breaking ground.
Children's Hospital CEO Don Mueller said he hopes groundbreaking can occur in the first or second quarter of next year.
Over its long history, Erlanger has received funding from both the county and city, but it currently gets only $1.5 million from the county. The city was also contributing $1.5 million annually under the terms of an agreement to jointly share the revenue of a sales tax, until that tax ran out in 2011.
Last updated at 2:30 p.m. with additional details.