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Surgical services cease at UCMH

By Curtis Carden

As plans continue for the creation of the new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital (UCMH) building, Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA), the health system that owns the county hospital, announced a reduction of services offered at both the current and future facilities.

With rumors circulating that surgical services at the current UCMH building would end, MSHA issued a statement on Tuesday, March 1, to The Erwin Record confirming surgeries will not be performed.

“While planning for construction of the new hospital, research by the hospital’s visioning committee revealed that there are only a total of 6 to 7 surgical cases per day performed on Unicoi County residents in every hospital in the region,” MSHA Corporate Director of Communications Teresa Hicks said. “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 led to the change, according to Hicks, who also said that over the years  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. All five team members in the surgery department (in Erwin) have been placed in new positions within UCMH or elsewhere in Mountain States.”

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Last month, MSHA announced the plans for the new $20 million hospital, which will include 20 beds, 10 for inpatient services and 10 for observation; the building is certified to have 48 beds. The building will also offer an emergency department and physician offices, but no surgical services.

“As we promised when UCMH became a part of Mountain States, our first priority is to ensure the provision of the highest quality of care available,” Hicks said. “Numerous peer-reviewed medical studies support that surgical services are best provided at a location where the volume is significant to maintain the highest competencies and skills of the caregivers.”

The new hospital is slated to be located off Exit 40 on I-26 in south Unicoi County. It is scheduled to open in 2018.