Wellmont unveils new Johnson City facility

By Megan R. Harrell


   The public got a glimpse of Wellmont Health Systems' new Johnson City hospital Tuesday evening. An architectural rendering of the 65-bed facility was unveiled as part of a Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours event at the Adelphia Centre, Millennium Park.
   The architecture of the three-story hospital offers an approach to medicine that differs from others in the area. It is centered around Planetree Healthcare which looks at different angles of patient care.
   "It is a holistic view that looks at the entire environment including spiritual and family needs," said Eric Deaton, Vice President of Wellmont Systems.
   Outdoor gardens for patient recovery are included in the plans for the new hospital. The large patient rooms will be constructed with the whole family in mind. Every room will have a built-in daybed for overnight guests, and kitchens will be located on the second and third floors to promote family involvement in the healing process. Patients who are admitted overnight will be able to cook and eat with their families as they overlook the atrium to the first floor lobby where musical performers will be located.
   "We're building a new kind of hospital for the people of Johnson City and Washington County," said Wellmont President and Chief Executive Officer Eddie George. "From the moment patients and their families walk through the doors of this hospital, they'll discover a healing environment designed from the ground up to meet their needs," George said.
   The hospital will be built on 29 acres at State of Franklin Road and Sunset Drive in Johnson City. The 180,000 square foot building will house emergency care, obstetrics, in and outpatient surgery, intensive care, operating rooms, cardiac cath lab, rehabilitation facilities, and a sleep lab.
   The emergency department will be located on the first floor. Obstetrics will be on the second while the intensive care unit will be located on the third. Each floor opens into the three-story atrium in the center of the hospital.
   Nurses at the new facility will have wireless telephones to decrease the time it takes them to respond to patients. The stations will be located in a "flying W" design so that every room is across the hall from the station. Smaller sub stations will be located between every two patient rooms to provide more intimate care.
   "We are bringing the nurses' station to the patients. This will allow our nurses to quickly respond to both patient and physician needs," George said.
   Wellmont hopes to bring as many as 500 jobs to Washington County by the time the hospital opens. "It will provide a great boost in the economy for this area. The average income for employees will be $30,000-$32,000 per year," Deaton said.
   The hospital could generate as much as $800,000 in yearly tax revenues because it will operate as a for-profit organization where physicians have joint ownership.
   Wellmont, a major competitor with Mountain States Health Alliance in Northeast Tennessee, will open its new facility within one mile of the Johnson City Medical Center, a MSHA facility. The location and construction of the new hospital have met with a great deal of resistance from MSHA.
   MSHA has claimed that Wellmont's new facility does not meet any of the criteria required to receive a Certificate of Need. According to the Health Facilities Commission, Wellmont's $58 million project has to "meet need and economic factors, and contribute to the orderly development of adequate and effective healthcare facilities and services," in order to receive a CON. Tennessee's HFC issued a Certificate of Need to Wellmont last October.
   Wellmont cited a need for variety in healthcare in the Tri-Cities area as one reason for its new hospital. Currently, Washington and Carter counties do not have alternative healthcare facilities. "When you have some competition it makes you better," Deaton said. "We can make each other stronger."
   The hospital will not only give a choice in healthcare but it will provide a choice in employment for area physicians. Deaton stated that local doctors had contacted Wellmont and requested that they open a new facility in Johnson City.
   MSHA has filed several motions in an attempt to keep Wellmont's hospital from going up in its back yard. It filed a motion with an administrative law judge to investigate the possibility of revoking Wellmont's Certificate of Need because of inaccurate figures on its application. Wellmont testified to its own error during its CON hearing.
   MSHA also filed a petition seeking a review of the judge's decision to refuse a stay in its case against Wellmont. The petition was denied in May of this year.
   Initial site preparations have been made but the actual construction of the hospital is pending a hearing in Nashville April 1, 2002. Construction will begin this summer if the judge denies MSHA's appeal of Wellmont's CON.
   "We know the community wants and needs this new hospital," George said. "We will meet that need. Although legal delays have slowed the process, they will not stop it."