Just in time, Fort Sanders opens new ER

Sandra ClarkLet's Talk, West Knoxville

March 2020 will be remembered for the COVID-19 threat that shuttered public meetings, canceled the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and knocked out the Dogwood Arts Festival. It will also be remembered for the March 7 opening of a new emergency department (can’t call it a room anymore) at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.

Serendipity? An invisible hand? Or just solid planning spiced with a hint of bravado by the leadership at Covenant Health?

Covenant CEO Jim VanderSteeg called the opening an exciting day – “Just as important as anything that will take place in Knoxville this year.”

The $115 million investment “will ensure that ER services will be here when you need them. We are open all the time.”

VanderSteeg said planning for the expansion began before Fort Sanders became the only downtown-area medical facility. Over the past 12 years, Knoxville has lost both Baptist Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center.

The new emergency department has moved to the lower level of the hospital’s Center for Advanced Medicine with a dedicated entrance off Laurel Avenue for patients and visitors.

The new space nearly doubles the number of patient rooms and square footage of the old space. It includes a radiology suite with CT scanner and X-ray services within the department.

The new emergency department features a CT scanner so patients can be diagnosed without leaving the department.

“All rooms are private and efficient, and the layout is expandable,” VanderSteeg said. The new waiting area will accommodate about 80 people, while the old area held about 30. And the new department includes a decontamination zone, completely self-contained and sealed off from the other patient areas.

There’s an expansive, sheltered space for ambulances to drop off patients. And VanderSteeg said the facility is just the first phase of renovations at Fort Sanders Regional. Still to come are two new critical-care floors, located atop the Center for Advanced Medicine, and 250 new parking spaces in the Laurel Garage.

The hospital is essentially landlocked on the northwest boundary of the Fort Sanders community and the University of Tennessee campus. More than 20 counties send patients there. Feb. 23, 2020, was the 100th anniversary of Fort Sanders.

Building up reduces sprawl at Fort Sanders Regional.

Former Mayor Madeline Rogero and a city council that’s mostly term-limited out worked with hospital officials to iron out tough zoning and land-use concerns to enable the construction.

Mayor Indya Kincannon was all smiles at the opening: “Access to good medical care is critical to a thriving city. This investment shows your commitment to good medical care and good-paying jobs.” Covenant Health is Knoxville’s largest private employer with more than 10,000 people.

Also spotted at the opening: Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs; county commissioners Evelyn Gill, Carson Dailey and John Schoonmaker; city council’s newest member, Tommy Smith; and former Covenant CEO Tony Spezia.

Legislative turnover

State Rep. Martin Daniel has announced he won’t seek re-election to the House this year. Rep. Bill Dunn previously said he would not run. Reps. Harry Brooks and Roger Kane did not run in 2018. And things aren’t looking so great for Rep. Rick Staples, who drew primary opposition from former county commissioner Sam McKenzie and others after Nashville-based reporters revealed Staples had used his campaign fund for personal expenses including perhaps his rent and honeymoon.

We could land with Jason Zachary, Justin Lafferty, Dave Wright and Gloria Johnson as our senior House members. All I can say is, thank God for the Senate where Knox County has clout: Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and Sens. Becky Massey and Richard Briggs.

The race to succeed Daniel will be dicey. Already attorney James Corcoran, Rob Howard and Eddie Mannis have pulled petitions for the Republican Primary. House District 18 includes Cedar Bluff, West Hills, Deane Hill, Rocky Hill, Ridgedale and Pleasant Ridge.

Based on his recent race for Knoxville mayor, Mannis is the early favorite.

COVID-19 impacts county

Knox County Commission chair Hugh Nystrom wants to reduce the scope of the commission’s March 30 agenda. He said last week that he’s consulted with Mayor Glenn Jacobs and Finance Director Chris Caldwell to determine absolutely necessary items. Everything else will be deferred.

The county’s Board of Zoning & Appeals meeting for March has been canceled with all applications postponed to the April 29 meeting.

Nystrom has canceled the Beer Board meeting, moving items to April 27. And he has canceled the commission’s workshop session set for March 23.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of KnoxTNToday.com. Reach her at 865-661-8777.

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