Unicoi residents, more get tour of MSHA facilities

Brad Hicks • Jan 24, 2013 at 9:04 PM

Officials with Mountain States Health Alliance want to give some Unicoi County residents, officials, business leaders and team leaders at Unicoi County Memorial Hospital an idea of what they could be looking at if MSHA constructs a new health care facility in Erwin.

On Thursday, around 40 people took MSHA up on the opportunity to visit three recently completed MSHA hospitals in the region. Stops on the tour included Franklin Woods Community Hospital in Johnson City, which opened in July 2010; Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon, Va., which opened in July 2011; and Smyth County Community Hospital in Marion, Va., which opened in April.

“The main purpose (of the tours) is to let people see, feel, touch these facilities to see what it will be like for a new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital underneath the Mountain States family,” MSHA President/CEO Dennis Vonderfecht said. “I think it also gives evidence of the fact that we follow through on the promises that we’ve made, and one of the promises that we’ve got in here is to build a new hospital.”

MSHA has constructed four hospitals in its coverage region within the last four years, and Vonderfecht said these hospitals share common design features that are intended to make the hospital experience as comfortable as possible for a patient and their family. Vonderfecht said he hopes those on the tour pick up on these features, which would be incorporated into a new MSHA hospital in Erwin.

“The one thing I really want them to understand is the culture of Mountain States Health Alliance, which is a unique culture of patient-centered care and how we use design features to emphasize the patient-centered care with the large open windows, the natural light, the artwork, the soothing colors, the quietness of the hallways and all those things that are important to a patient and their family,” Vonderfecht said.

In late November, the UCMH Board of Control voted to move forward with a proposal from MSHA to acquire Unicoi County’s financially struggling community hospital over an acquisition proposal submitted by Wellmont Health System. Among commitments spelled out in MSHA’s proposal is the promise to construct a new acute care facility with the limits of Erwin.

Two of the hospitals on Thursday’s tour — Johnston Memorial and Smyth County Community — were in similar situations to UCMH before MSHA acquired them, according to the CEOs of those hospitals. Johnston CEO Sean McMurray said once the private hospital began experiencing struggles, its board began looking at the possibility of partnering with a larger health care organization.

The hospital’s board eventually opted to partner with MSHA and, since that partnership, services previously unavailable to the hospital are now in place, admission rates have increased and MSHA has provided the room to expand if necessary in the future, McMurray said.

“As promised, Mountain States delivered,” McMurray said.

SCCH CEO Lindy White said that in fall 2005, her hospital’s board reached out to Wellmont and MSHA about a potential partnership, just as the UCMH Board of Control did last summer. She said the board eventually decided to move forward with Mountain States which, like UCMH, had a longstanding relationship with MSHA prior to the acquisition. She said since MSHA’s acquisition, additional services and specialties have been brought in and there is room for expansion of the 150,000 square-foot facility.

“Our community now, in a very big way, is supporting the hospital,” White said.

Due to the community’s size, Vonderfecht said MSHA’s hospital in Erwin would likely be comparable to SCCH. Bill Alton, vice president of facility and construction management for MSHA, said a strategic planning program to outline the services at the Erwin facility will be developed, followed by the submission of a Certificate of Need that will define how the facility will look to house these service. An oversight committee made up of Unicoi County and MSHA officials, as well as the community, will be involved in the process, Alton said.

Alton said the Certificate of Need will be used to develop a request for proposal, which will be awarded to a contractor after it is put out for bid. He said the construction documents will take around six months to complete, and the facility itself would taken approximately 18 months to construct.

Vonderfecht said attorneys with UCMH and MSHA are in the process of finalizing the closing documents of the acquisition, which officials hope is completed by the middle of next month. Once complete, notification of the sale will be filed with the state attorney general’s office. Vonderfecht said the attorney general will review whether a fair price was paid for UCMH and if the process to acquire it was fair. He said MSHA officials hope this review is completed by late March to early April, at which time MSHA would assume ownership of UCMH.

Candace Jennings, MSHA senior vice president of Tennessee operations, said MSHA officials hope to select the architect for the new UCMH by summer 2014 and be ready for construction by summer 2015. Vonderfecht said officials anticipate the new UCMH will be ready in April 2017.

UCMH team leaders on Thursday’s tour said they are anxious to see what MSHA will bring to the table in Erwin.

“I’m very excited about the opportunities that now exist with our partnership with Mountain States Health Alliance,” UCMH Physical Therapy Director Chad Capps said. “All of their facilities we toured are state-of-the-art both in function and services offered. I expect that Mountain States will bring specialties that will enhance the services available to Unicoi County residents.”

UCMH Emergency Department Director Larry Dison said the partnership with MSHA should provide enhanced services to Unicoi County patients and provide the hospital with a level of secureness it has not seen in some time.

“We’ve always given good care, but we’ve been struggling a little bit with being able to get new things that we might need,” Dison said. “I’m not big into the budget or anything, but just knowing what (MSHA has) been able to build ... everywhere we’ve been, their business has improved and increased.”

If the patients are coming, then most likely that means they’re more satisfied. That’s really what our goal is, to get patient satisfaction up.”

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