Construction is officially under way on a sprawling health facility at the Volkswagen auto assembly plant, which planners say will improve the health of local VW employees as well as residents of the Ooltewah region.

Using oversized plastic scalpels as shovels, civic and business leaders sliced into a patch of ground Wednesday on Volkswagen Drive at the site of the planned health and wellness facility, which will become the sixth of Erlanger Health System's campuses.

The 32,000-square-foot center should be complete and ready for business by June 2011, officials said.

"The whole point of this campus is to be proactive" about health, Jim Brexler, Erlanger president and CEO, said at the groundbreaking ceremony.

The fact that the facility is open to the general public "gives us the chance to create an incredible medical facility here ... that adds value to Volkswagen and the community at large," Brexler said.

The $10 million facility will offer rehabilitative services, a pharmacy, dental and eye care and a fitness center, as well as a 13,000-square-foot child care center, officials said.

Erlanger has partnered with Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation for rehabilitative care at the site. Two Erlanger primary care doctors will be based at the site, up the road from the automaker's assembly plant still under construction at Enterprise South industrial park, said Donna Bourdon, senior vice president of ambulatory services at Erlanger.


Erlanger at Volkswagen Drive will offer:

* Primary care

* Occupational services

* Rehabilitative services

* Dental and eye care

* Fitness center

* Child care

* Life Force helipad

* Pharmacy

* Specialty care, like OB-GYN, as needed

Source: Erlanger Health System

"You'll be able to maintain the continuum of care there and create a medical home so these patients won't be jumping from physician from physician," she said.

Erlanger's partnership with Volkswagen is not new. The hospital has a three-year contract to provide health care services for the more than 2,000 employees expected to work at the auto assembly plant, starting with treatments for workers at the construction site.

Doctors at the facility, called "Erlanger at Volkswagen Drive," will focus on continuity and comprehensive care with an eye to health outcomes, said Lois Kohrt, executive director of physician services at Erlanger. Electronic health records and e-mail "visits" with doctors should cut down on inefficiency and improve health while minimizing unnecessary doctor visits, she said.

The site also brings much-needed health care services to a growing population, officials said.

Last year, a report from the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies identified Ooltewah as one of the fastest-growing areas in Hamilton County between 2000 and 2008.

"We believe we will have a long-lasting, positive impact on (the health of) our employees and our neighbors," said Hans-Herbert Jagla, executive vice president of human resources for Volkswagen in Chattanooga, at Wednesday's ceremony. "We believe Erlanger's presence is needed in this part of the" county.

Contact Emily Bregel at or 423-757-6467.