Things to Know about Erlanger and Tennova's Proposed Emergency Centers

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Over the past few months, two healthcare providers in the region, Erlanger Health System and Tennova Healthcare, developed proposals to construct new free standing emergency departments in Bradley County. On 8:30am of June 27, each group will present their proposals to the The State of Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency (THSDA), which will determine who can and cannot proceed.

Erlanger's Facility  

Due to the continued population growth and need for closer medical care, Erlanger is proposing to build a Level IV trauma center serving both Bradley and Polk Counties. 

The plans for a new site include support facilities for EMS personnel, a cardiac catheterization suite with observation beds, 12 exam rooms including trauma facilities, observation beds for monitoring patients, CT scanner and catheterization laboratory, imaging equipment, lab and pharmacy services, and a helipad. 

Tennova's Facility

Tennova submitted its own proposal after Erlanger Health Systems filed paperwork. Though the exact specifications of Tennova’s proposal are are hard to determine, Foss said that Tennova’s new facility’s construction is largely to alleviate patient traffic and direct them to the main Tennova campus if they require a higher level of care than what this proposed emergency room can provide. 

“It will not have [catheterization] lab or anything, it would just strictly be just to see patients as an outlet valve for an emergency room. It’s all an attempt to diffuse a very busy emergency room,” said Foss at the Tennova Bradley Chamber of Commerce Public Affairs Meeting back in May.

Differing Approaches

Though both health care companies are presenting similar plans, the motivating factors seem to be different. Erlanger’s focus has been fixed on addressing the need for additional medical care in this region and what their facility can contribute. With hopes to save patients time and money, Erlanger is trying to bring medical care closer to home for these patients. To quote Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel from an article in the Chattanoogan on May 30:

“Our goal is to serve those needing medical care closer to home, including the hundreds of Erlanger employees and their families who live and contribute to the economy in Bradley and Polk counties." Mr. Spiegel also noted that, “Nearly 20,000 residents from Bradley and Polk Counties left for care elsewhere last year, so there is obviously a need for this additional service in their community.”

Even though Tennova has mentioned that they are working to expand access to convenient, high-quality care close to patients, Tennova’s arguments primarily revolved around what will happen to the local doctors and physicians should the Erlanger facility be approved over the Tennova facility. 

Business Interests vs. Patient Choice

In many instances, including the two Chamber of Commerce Public Affairs Meetings, Tennova physicians have spoken out about physicians running out of business rather than the medical needs of the community being met. There have been other instances where Tennova doctors and physicians spoke out about Erlanger’s new proposed facility and the potential loss of business volume. On the other hand, Erlanger’s messaging has been on focused around patient choice. To quote Erlanger senior Vice President and chief strategy officer Matthew Gibson at the Erlanger Bradley Chamber of Commerce Public Affairs Meeting in June:

“I can’t state it any better our emergency department physicians have to me in the several months as we’ve talked through this exact question that has come up [regarding physician reference,] the leader of our emergency department said, ‘Absolutely, we’ll refer them to a local physician. I’ll refer them to the best physician that’s available.’  And hopefully the specialists that are interested and have time will take call in this facility and have access to those. But above physicians, it’s patient choice for who they want to see.“

What's Next

On June 27, Erlanger and Tennova will have each have 10 to 15 minutes to present their application THSDA. The board must find that four specific criteria have been met in order to grant a certificate of need: whether the project is necessary to provide needed healthcare, whether it can be economically accomplished and maintained, whether it will provide healthcare that meets appropriate quality standards and whether it will contribute to the orderly development of healthcare. 

Tennova will be represented by Foss and Dr. Johnson and Erlanger by Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel and lead executive Joseph Winick.

Stay tuned for a follow up article regarding the decision made.