This photo from the Diocese of Knoxville shows St. Mary’s Sisters at the hospital.

The lights of St. Mary’s mean Christmas at my house, but every year since Tennova announced its intention to shut the old hospital down, they’ve made me profoundly sad. How many more years, I’ve wondered, will I be able to see those Christmas trees from my living room window?

That’s the way it’s been in these North Knoxville neighborhoods in the years since that announcement left us wondering what would happen to us when Tennova pulled up stakes and moved to West Knoxville (which apparently had a burning need for yet another hospital). Besides the pretty lights, St. Mary’s – and yeah, we still call it that, just like we’ve always called East Towne Mall East Towne Mall – has anchored these neighborhoods since 1930.

It provides employment and operates the only emergency room in the center city. My children were born there. My grandmother died there. I went there last summer when I broke my wrist.

Tennova’s announcement plunged us into an uncertainty that made us vulnerable to a rumor mill in overdrive. We nearly lost our minds when we heard that the sheriff wanted to turn the old hospital into a massive in-patient drug treatment center – he had to come to an Oakwood Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association meeting to shoot the notion down.

We stayed scared for years. Neighbors who had moved to Oakwood Lincoln Park to be close to their jobs, or to their doctors had deeper concerns, but it affected us all. We went to community meetings and vented our fears to Tennova mouthpieces who attempted to soothe us – and when that didn’t work to browbeat us. We worried about healthcare for the poorest among us. It’s been a dark cloud that lingered for years.

Until today, when Tennova Healthcare said ‘Never mind,’ and confirmed the growing speculation that they had abandoned the plan to close St. Mary’s (aka Physician’s Regional Medical Center) and move it to Middlebrook Pike.

Things here won’t be exactly the same – it won’t be an acute-care facility, but they’ll be moving the birthing center in and will keep the emergency room.

City Council member Lauren Rider, who can also see the lights of St Mary’s from her house in Old North Knoxville, is more gracious about it than I am:

“We’re relieved and glad to see they’re going to expand some of those service lines and keep our hospital here. Our area is growing – we’ve got young families moving in and older people who want to age in place and keep their healthcare where they need it. I’m thankful that the hospital will stay.”

Like I said, Rider’s nicer than I am.

I’m glad the long worrisome wait is over, and glad that the inner city won’t lose its emergency room and glad that the beautiful old building will be preserved and repurposed.

Thanks for changing your minds. But jeeze, Louise, y’all put us through a dark, sad time. Not that you care.

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Written by Betty Bean