U.S. Senate Secretary speaks about new Children's Hospital

  JOHNSON CITY -- With hopes of building a new Regional Children's Hospital in Johnson City on the table, the Mountain States Foundation (MSF) was told by U.S. Secretary of Senate Emily Reynolds the project could receive federal support.
   "This is definitely on the radar screen," Reynolds told the Foundation Thursday morning during its regular meeting in the Johnson City Medical Center (JCMC). "We're clearly aware of this being a priority for you."
   Reynolds serves as the chief legislative officer for the Senate and affirms the accuracy of bill text by signing all measures that pass the Senate. The secretary supervises the preparation and printing of bills and reports, the publication of the Congressional Record and Senate journals as well as other matters.
   "You have educated us, first of all, which is very important," Reynolds told the Foundation. "We very much have all (the information) we need to move forward on this."
   The secretary did warn much funding was being funneled toward the military efforts in Iraq, but added the Foundation should not give up hope for assistance even if appropriations for the new hospital are not made in this initial version of the budget being created.
   "There is always the possibility we will come back for a lame duck session," she said.
   Foundation members were excited to hear Reynolds speak of the proposed hospital and some members even expressed surprise about the strong, positive tone the secretary used regarding possible appropriation funding.
   "It was very encouraging and I was really thrilled," MSF Chair Marcy Walker said after meeting with Reynolds. "She seemed very well versed in our needs and supportive of the project being a priority."
   MSF President Larry Warkoczeski said there had been a concerted effort to educate federal leaders on the need for a new Regional Children's Hospital which now seems to be paying off.
   "We feel it should be one of their top priorities, but to hear someone on that level talk about how much interest there is in Washington about building this hospital is very encouraging," Warkoczeski said. "They obviously grasp this is truly a regional project. Not just for the children, but also for the benefit of East Tennessee State University, the medical school and others around the entire area."
   The Foundation president added any funding received from the federal government would be only a part of the total needed to complete the hospital. The Foundation is collecting local financial support from residents, area organizations and MSHA team members as well as working to gain a major lead donation.
   MSF Board Member Linda Latimer, who is a pathologist, invited Reynolds to speak to the Foundation and said even she was somewhat surprised at the remarks made by the secretary.
   "We really hadn't talked much about the children's hospital before, and I was impressed by how much she knew about it," Latimer said. "Emily is definitely one of the most powerful and brightest women in Washington right now. We hope to continue to work with her, Sen. Bill Frist and others on this issue."
   Representatives from Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA), including President and CEO Dennis Vonderfecht, have made trips to Washington recently to talk with senators and congressmen regarding the need for the new children's hospital.
   "Congressman Bill Jenkins has been pushing this hard for us," Vonderfecht said Thursday. "We have visited several other congressional offices, and they indicated to us they are interested in the project."
   Walker said the Foundation plans to continue working with federal officials in pressing for this appropriation to be included in the budget.
   "We've got some more visits we have to make around Washington," she said. "We're going to make a further point of how important this is to us."
   MSF officials announced in February their dream to build the new facility to serve the 250,000 children living east of Knoxville and south of Roanoke, Va. JCMC, along with its 26 physician specialists, provided medical services to 1,400 children last year from its existing Regional Children's Hospital located on a floor inside the medical center. A new facility is now needed to better fulfill the growing needs of children in the area.
   Part of that comes through JCMC's status as an affiliate clinic of St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis.