Finishing touches are being done at the new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital ahead of its opening next week. A ribbon cutting has been set for Monday, Oct. 22. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Richard Rourk

Heritage, service, tradition and innovation are what drive the new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital, which will officially open to patients on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 7 a.m.

Ballad Health had the future in mind when they decided five years ago to build a new hospital, according to one representative.

“This shows Ballad’s commitment to Unicoi County,” said Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Administrator Eric Carroll during a tour of the new facility for media on Friday, Oct. 12.

Ballad Health will celebrate the opening of the new facility with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday, Oct. 22, beginning at 11 a.m. Tours will take place following the ceremony.

The hospital, which currently employs roughly 115 staff members, will have a 24-hour emergency room. There will be 10 emergency exam rooms. UCMH will also feature 10 private inpatient rooms, all with mountain views. The rooms are also large and feature couches that can convert to beds.

“Patients’ families are a part of the healing process,” Carroll said. “We want the families to be able stay in comfort.”

The walls are lined throughout the hospital with local artwork. With all of the modern amenities, there are some historical artifacts that are prominently displayed as well – a heritage wall features a reel from Capital Cinema, a picture of the “Erwin Nine” and an actual Blue Ridge Pottery plate.

“The items on this wall represents the best of Unicoi County,” said Carroll during the tour.

Ballad brings many exclusive features to the new hospital. The hospital itself is the first hospital to be completed since the merger between Wellmont and Mountain States Health Alliance. UCMH was built to give the citizens of Unicoi County the option to receive quality healthcare close to home.

“All of the services that citizens used to travel for – the CT Scans, MRI’s and 3D Mammograms – can be done right here close to home,” Carroll said.

The MRI machine is the first in the state of Tennessee and the first Ballad Health facility to feature virtual theater. Virtual theater allows the patients to bring in their favorite movies or music to be played while they are in the MRI machine.

“This is a way to bring the stress level down in an already stressful situation,” Carroll said.

The MRI machine is extremely quiet compared to its predecessors.

“You can have a conversation in the room while the MRI is going,” said Carroll.

The MRI also has the largest bore available to allow for more room in the machine.

Another exclusive feature is the use of Epic, the technology platform that will connect all Ballad Health facilities in the future. All facilities that use Epic can communicate information back and forth to each other and to the patient. The Epic platform currently covers 200 million people, roughly two-thirds of patients nationwide.

Although Epic is already in use at legacy Wellmont facilities, it has not carried over to the legacy Mountain States facilities.

“Unicoi County Memorial Hospital will be the first legacy Mountain States hospital to go live with Epic,” Director of nursing at UCMH April Jones, RN, said.

The staff at UCMH finished Epic training last week. The tentative date for Epic to be available for all Ballad Health facilities is set for April of 2020.

The new hospital has many other new or upgraded additions, including a large trauma room and a second smaller trauma room. There is also a helipad that is available for Wings air ambulance service transport.

“This helipad makes it convenient for those that need emergency transport to another one of our facilities,” Carroll said.

Located outside of the trauma room is a unique design feature that allows all stations such as nursing, ER and labs to be joined in a central location.

“This design was made for efficiency,” stated Carroll.

This area also leads to easy access to the lab area within roughly 50 feet.

UCMH is equipped to offer imaging services including, ultrasound, bone density and 3D mammography. The X-ray machine delivers digital results for both inpatient and outpatient procedures. The Cannon Radiology CT Scan is capable of 160 slices per rotation. Cardiology services including stress tests will be available seven days a week. The new nuclear medicine area allows for heart and lung exams.

The new facility features a chapel, which was previously missing at the old UCMH. Although there is a cafeteria area in the current hospital, it wasn’t very easy to locate. The new cafeteria area is larger than its predecessor and is centrally located with both indoor and outdoor seating. The indoor area has Edison lamps and large window spaces for natural lighting. On the wall next to the cafeteria is a lit Blue Ridge Pottery logo.

“Your eyes are drawn to this artwork as you walk into the lobby,” Carroll said of the Blue Ridge Pottery logo.

There are numerous USB and plugins conveniently located for patients and visitors to charge their electronic devices. One other unique feature is the gift shop, which offers locally curated gifts. The proceeds from the gift shop go to the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Auxiliary which funds several local healthcare initiatives.

As employees and patients transition from the old hospital to the new one, there will be hours where both are operational.

“There will be no lapse in coverage while we transition,” Carroll told The Erwin Record.

As of right now, there are no new plans for the future vacated portions of the old facility. The Long Term Care unit will remain there for the time being. As far as what will become of the rest of the facility, there are no plans at this point.

“That is something we will have to discuss with the county,” Carroll said.

The new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital is located a 2030 Temple Hill Road in Erwin. To RSVP for the ribbon cutting, call 302-3042 or email unicoicountyhospital@balladhealth.org.