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MSHA chooses architect, builder for new hospital

By Keeli Parkey

A new hospital for Unicoi County is one step closer to reality.

In a press release issued on Tuesday, May 24, Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA), the health system which owns Unicoi County Memorial Hospital (UCMH), announced that an architect and builder have been selected to build the new facility.

Earl Swennson Associates (ESA) was recently chosen as the architect and Layton Construction as the builder by the hospital’s community board and its visioning committee. Both are located in Nashville.

“This is an exciting time because we’re one step closer to having a new hospital for Unicoi County,” said Eric Carroll, AVP/administrator at Unicoi County Memorial Hospital. “We feel really good about our selection of these two firms. We’re familiar with ESA because of their experience with Mountain States, and we were very impressed with their presentation and ideas for this project. We’re right on track for a groundbreaking next spring.”

MSHA reported that ESA has designed two of its Southwest Virginia facilities – Smyth County Community Hospital and Johnston Memorial Hospital.

The new UCMH is to be located on Temple Hill Road, just off I-26 at Exit 40. MSHA closed on the purchase of this property in July 2015. As part of the agreement MSHA signed when purchasing UCMH in late 2013, the health system committed to have a new hospital in Unicoi County operational within five years. Construction of the new hospital, which is estimated to cost $20 million, is slated to begin in spring of 2017 and should open in the fall of 2018, MSHA reported Tuesday.

In March, The Erwin Record reported that MSHA announced a reduction of services offered at both the current and future UCMH.

“While planning for construction of the new hospital, research by the hospital’s visioning committee revealed that there are only a total of six to seven surgical cases per day performed on Unicoi County residents in every hospital in the region,” MSHA Corporate Director of Communications Teresa Hicks said at the time. “Even if the hospital were able to perform 100 percent of the surgeries in its service area, the volume would not be enough to ensure the needed level of quality.

“Most surgeries for patients from Unicoi County are currently performed in Washington County at Johnson City Medical Center, Franklin Woods Community Hospital or the two ambulatory surgery centers in Johnson City,” Hicks continued.

A decrease in surgical volume at UCMH led to the change, according to Hicks, who also said that over the years that UCMH averaged less than one surgery per day at the facility.

“In order to sustain optimal quality of a surgical program, it is necessary to perform significantly more cases than UCMH can support,” she added. “Without the volume, it is difficult to sustain the core competencies of the staff. This would not be the right thing to do for our patients, particularly since higher volume programs are available nearby.”

The new UCMH, according to MSHA, will include: Inpatient beds; beds for observation services (for patients who do not need inpatient level of care); physician office space; full service emergency department with telemedicine connectivity to Niswonger Children’s Hospital; standard and advanced diagnostics, including nuclear medicine, stress testing, and CT; a chest pain center; laboratory; and physical therapy.

“We want this to be a great hospital that fits the needs of the community,” Carroll also said. “We want it to be as safe, efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. At the same time, it’s a beautiful setting so we want it to be aesthetically pleasing. It’s going to be something our community can be proud of.”

In the coming months, according to Carroll, the hospital’s administration, board and visioning committee will utilize input from each UCMH department to finalize the design of the new facility.