New Emergency Room at Sycamore Shoals Hospital

By Bob Robinson

STAR STAFF

   Sycamore Shoals Hospital will double the size of its existing Emergency Room in a $2.2 million expansion/renovation project expected to be completed on the 15th anniversary of the hospital early next month.
   As a service to the community, the hospital is also providing an Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Station for two Carter County Emergency and Rescue Squad ambulances and crew.
   "It should reduce the squad's response time to emergencies in western Carter County," said Scott Williams, hospital administrator.
   The latest expansion will increase from seven to 15 the number of exam rooms in the Emergency Room but may not reduce wait times.
   The severity of the illness or emergency determines when patients are seen in the Emergency Room.
   "No one is refused treatment. It is against the law for us to do that. Patients are not necessarily taken into exam rooms in the order they arrive at the Emergency Room," Williams said.
   The wait time can be as long as two hours because people with non-emergencies, such as diaper rash, sore throats, minor abrasions to be cleaned and dressed, are using the Emergency Room as a walk-in clinic, according to Williams. "They should be seeing their local physician, instead," Williams added.
   Sycamore Shoals Hospital Emergency Room treated 1,744 people in September and 22,600 the past 12 months.
   The latest hospital expansion/renovation will add 9,273 square feet to the Emergency Room suite and 1,478 square feet for the EMS station.
   Several months ago, Sycamore Shoals added Magnetic Resonance Imaging equipment in a $2.5 million project to renovate and expand the radiology department. Some 2,646 square feet was added to the radiology department and another 1,375 square feet was renovated.
   Should there be an anthrax outbreak locally, the hospital has antibiotics on hand. Bioterrorism classes have already been held for nurses at Sycamore Shoals Hospital, Williams said.
   "Every day we treat diseases, such as aids and hepatitis, which are just as deadly, or more so, as anthrax. I believe the other diseases pose a greater threat in our community than does anthrax. If everybody uses caution, bioterrorism can be well controlled," said Williams.
   Should local residents have a question on the bioterrorism threat, they should contact the Elizabethton/Carter County Health Department or Sycamore Shoals Hospital's "Ask a Nurse" at 423/431-5551, according to Williams.
   Williams was appointed administrator at Sycamore Shoals Hospital in 1998 after working at Johnson City Medical Center since 1983. On Sept. 1, 1998, Johnson City Medical Center purchased Columbia Hospital in Elizabethton and formed Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA).
   The last Columbia Hospital expansion prior to the MSHA acquisition was the Women's Pavilion at Sycamore Shoals Hospital. Today, Sycamore Shoals Hospital employees 325 people, the second largest employer in Elizabethton, and has an annual payroll of $11 million, including benefits.
   What is the biggest challenge facing Sycamore Shoals in the months and years ahead? "Reimbursement from insurance companies, TennCare and patients to keep our doors open."
   "We are a not-for-profit hospital. We have a high percentage of TennCare patients (25 percent in September and 30 percent for the year), in addition to Medicaid patients," Williams said.
   In July, Sycamore Shoals had 2,000 outpatients and 132 admissions, including 36 Medicare admissions to the Senior Care Unit.
   "It is difficult for small hospitals, such as Sycamore Shoals, to maintain a sufficient fund in which to operate," Williams said.
   This past week, TennCare mailed notices to more than 279,000 members, notifying them of the state's termination of its contract with Access MedPlus, one of 10 TennCare managed care organizations.
   Members will have 90 days, beginning Nov. 1, to chose another health plan if they do not want to be transferred into TennCare Select.
   "We are evaluating what actions need to be taken by Sycamore Shoals to serve the former Access MedPlus members," Williams said.
   Sycamore Shoals Hospital, with 121 beds, provides radiology, emergency care, physical therapy, cardiopulmonary, ICU/CCU and laboratory services.
   Outpatient services include x-ray, lab test or cardiac stress test, general and orthopedic surgeries, endoscopy, bronchoscopy, colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy.
   The Women's Pavilion provides surgical, fertility and incontinence services and family birth center. Mammography, breast biopsy and bone density testing are performed in the women's diagnostic center.
   Sycamore Shoals Hospital is located at 1501 West Elk Ave., in Elizabethton, telephone 423/542-1300.