Fort Sanders Regional celebrates 100 years of service

Sandra ClarkInside 640, On the Grow

Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center is expanding its footprint as it enters its second century of service. A multi-month observance of the hospital’s 100th anniversary launched with a reception on Dec. 4. The charter for the downtown Knoxville hospital, built on the site of the historic Civil War Battle of Fort Sanders, was signed in 1919 and the first patients were admitted on Feb. 23, 1920.


A $115 million project is underway to nearly double the capacity of the hospital’s emergency department. The expansion will also add two floors to the hospital’s Center for Advanced Medicine for critical care services.

That’s good news, said Mayor Madeline Rogero. “We need medical care in the heart of our city, and the fact that Fort Sanders has been here for 100 years and plans for 100 more is good news for the people of Knoxville.”

The kick-off event included remarks from Fort Sanders Regional and Covenant Health leaders, a proclamation from the State of Tennessee and remarks from Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, and a display of memorabilia and photos from years past.

State Sen. Richard Briggs, a heart and lung surgeon, has been on staff at Fort Sanders since March 1992. He is proud of the hospital’s growth and high quality of service. “Patients will receive just as good or better care here than any place,” he said.

Several retired physicians returned for Wednesday’s celebration.

Keith Altshuler, president and chief administrative officer of Fort Sanders Regional, acknowledged the vision and dedication of physicians and staff, past and present.

“I’m certain the physicians who founded Fort Sanders Hospital 100 years ago couldn’t possibly envision the magnitude of their accomplishments as they stand today,” Altshuler said, “but as we reflect on an inspiring 100-year history, I am confident that we have many more accomplishments ahead in the next 100 years.”

In the past century, Fort Sanders Regional has admitted an estimated 750,000 patients, performed 400,000 surgeries and helped bring 125,000 babies into the world. More than one million people sought treatment in the hospital’s emergency department.

Jim VanderSteeg is president and CEO of Covenant Health, the parent company of Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. When he came to Knoxville 12 years ago, there were three downtown hospitals – Fort Sanders, St. Mary’s and Baptist. Now there is one, and that necessitated the expansion of emergency service facilities. He said the new additions will open in spring 2020, capping several months of celebrating the 100th anniversary.

Street conversions

City Engineering is changing traffic directions of two minor roadways in the Fort Sanders neighborhood to better improve circulation and safety during construction around Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.

Traffic engineers will convert 18th Street to one-way northbound during the week of Dec. 16. Additionally, traffic engineers will convert the block of Laurel Avenue between 18th and 19th streets to two-way traffic. Changes to Laurel Avenue will be completed in early 2020 when the street is cleared of hospital construction, said Zachary Roberts, city traffic engineer. Parking improvements being completed by Fort Sanders Regional may change traffic circulation in this section of the Fort Sanders Neighborhood, he said. “The directional changes will help reduce overall volume on the roadways.”

A century of firsts

Keith Altshuler recounted significant milestones for Fort Sanders Regional.

  • An affiliated School of Nursing was established even before the hospital opened.
  • In 1920, Fort Sanders offered the area’s first private ambulance service and had the first neonatal incubator to give premature babies a fighting chance.
  • During World War II, Fort Sanders was the area’s first private hospital to receive the new “wonder drug,” penicillin.
  • Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center and Thompson Cancer Survival Center were added. And Fort Sanders offers the latest technology and treatments as the hub of Covenant Health’s stroke hospital network.

“We were built for our community and we are growing for our community, keeping in mind that our patients always come first,” he said.

Covenant Health

Jim VanderSteeg picked up the narrative.

Fort Sanders Health System was established in the 1980s to include several area hospitals and a variety of outpatient services and specialties. In 1996, the health system merged with Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge to create Covenant Health.

“Since that time, Covenant Health has become the top performing healthcare system in the region and serves over a million patients each year,” VanderSteeg said. “We’re the largest employer in the area with over 11,000 employees, and Covenant Health has been recognized five times by Forbes as a top employer.

“Three things will not change,” he said. “Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center will continue to be known for its commitment to the community, for innovation and for caring for each patient we are privileged to serve.”

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