Apr. 27--Change keeps coming to the Knoxville health care scene.
Covenant Health is announcing construction of a $78 million medical building to house a multi-specialty surgery center and physicians' offices as part of a planned $150 million expansion of Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. Construction is expected to begin this summer.
The project comes as Mercy Health Partners, which recently was formed with the merger of Baptist and St. Mary's health systems, prepares to close St. Mary's Medical Center in North Knoxville and build Mercy Medical Center at the site of the current Baptist Hospital of East Tennessee, on Blount Avenue near downtown.
But Covenant President and CEO Tony Spezia said Covenant's expansion is part of a long-term plan for his company's hospital that has been taking shape over the last few years.
"I would have to say we committed to the Regional project a long time before we had any idea anything was going to happen (regarding Baptist and St. Mary's)," Spezia said.
Since 2001, Covenant has built a new hospital in Loudon County, has upgraded Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge, has begun construction on a new hospital in Sevier County and has completed a $94 million upgrade at Fort Sanders Parkwest Medical Center in West Knoxville. Spezia said revamping the Fort Sanders facility was the next logical step. Fort Sanders Regional is a 541-bed, full-service acute care hospital and regional referral center.
The project will bring total investment in new or upgraded Covenant facilities to nearly $750 million since 2001, according to the health system. The addition will sit immediately east of the current facility on Clinch Avenue -- occupying what is now a parking lot. Covenant recently completed an $11 million parking garage as part of the project to accommodate the loss of spaces. The expansion will include new physician office space and a surgery center, to which Physicians Surgery Center will be relocated. Physicians Surgery Center is majority-owned by doctors and now is situated a few blocks to the west of Fort Sanders hospital on Sullins Street.
The addition also will feature a new lobby with improved access between the hospital, outpatient center, offices, and existing and planned parking garages. Spezia said while design for the new facility is still under way, he expects construction to be complete by late 2009.
This expansion will lay the groundwork for the final phase of the Fort Sanders improvement project, which likely will include more physician offices and add capacity to the hospital itself, according to Spezia. With relocation of the surgery center, he said, there likely will be more demand for nearby office space from physicians who use the center. That, coupled with growth the hospital already is seeing from referrals because of the recent Sevier County expansion, will boost demand for more hospital beds.
Spezia said Covenant also has seen an increase in the number of physicians seeking privileges at the health system's hospitals with the uncertainty in recent months surrounding Baptist Hospital's future.
"I think the growth we're looking at is several things," he said. "Regional is a tertiary referral center ... that draws from a very wide area for its higher-end services. There's tremendous growth in Seymour and many of those areas on that side of town, but we also expect growth in our community hospitals."
Although the Fort Sanders Regional construction project does not require a certificate of need from the Tennessee Health Services Development Agency, a state certificate will be required to relocate the surgery center. Spezia said Covenant also is planning the expansion in conjunction with the city of Knoxville's plans for revitalization in the Fort Sanders neighborhood.
"This is all part of what we think is an important investment in downtown Knoxville," Spezia said.