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Health care continues to be a major driver of Kingsport's economy

Rick Wagner • Nov 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center traces its roots to 1936.


Third in a series

The medical community in the Model City has continued to develop over the past decade, including expansions and improvements at Indian Path Medical Center and Holston Valley Medical Center.

“The medical facilities here — we have two outstanding hospitals,” Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips said. “You’d have to go a long way to get any better medical services than what’s here.”

Holston Valley traces its roots back to Holston Valley Community Hospital, which opened in 1936. It is owned by Wellmont Health System, headquartered in Kingsport. Indian Path, which opened in 1974, is owned by Johnson City-based Mountain States Health Alliance.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Kingsport-Bristol Metropolitan Statistical Area grew from 12,900 to 17,100 health care employees over the past 10 years for 420 new jobs per year. The Johnson City MSA grew from 8,800 to 11,400 over the same period, or 260 new jobs per year.

“Health care is obviously a huge contributor to the economy throughout the Tri-Cities. Sometimes it gets overlooked,” said Steve Kilgore, Kingsport resident and president of Johnson City-based Blue Ridge Medical Management Group.

Project Platinum, a $100 million renovation and update of Holston Valley, is set to be completed by the end of 2009 instead of the original timeline end in the third quarter of 2009.

It started last year with a new parking garage, which has been completed, and continues with a new power house under way and towers to start next year.

“Holston Valley really in the past three to five years, we’ve totally had a facelift,” said Blaine Douglas, president of HVMC.

“Almost every patient area has been addressed,” Douglas said. “In the past five years, you’ve seen drastic changes.”

In addition to that project, Douglas said HVMC usually spends $10 million or so a year on capital improvements.

The HVMC Emergency Department, the third-busiest in Tennessee, saw about 88,000 patients in fiscal year 2006-07, which ended June 30, and has been seeing about 10 percent or 11 percent growth.

The hospital has 590 licensed beds, but because double-occupancy rooms usually are used for one patient, the census is usually something more than 300, he said.

The hospital had about 20,000 adult discharges last year, representing an annual 5 percent to 6 percent growth in admissions.

The hospital has 2,220 employees, which when allowing for some part-time people works out to about 1,700 full-time equivalency employees.

The Wellmont hospital had net revenues of $280 million last year and a net profit — an accounting term since the hospital is a not-for-profit facility — of $4 million.

Adjacent to the HVMC main campus is the Eastman Holston Valley Outpatient Center campus, which includes the under-construction $30 million Holston Medical Group office building, a completed Wellmont physicians building, and Holston Valley Ambulatory Surgery Center, Holston Valley Imaging Center, Breast Center, Sullivan Rehabilitation Center, and the Hand Center (part of the rehabilitation center).

Formerly the Kings Giant Plaza, the property is near what will become the new Project Platinum entrance to HVMC, which includes the city reconfiguring Gibson Mill Road and Watauga Street with a roundabout. Work on that started Nov. 14 and is to continue for about three months.

Wellmont has about 3,062 employees in Kingsport, including about 58 physicians on the Wellmont payroll, according to Wellmont spokesman Brad Lifford.

Across town at competing Indian Path Medical Center, a traffic light project at John B. Dennis Highway and Pavilion Drive will help alleviate a bottleneck there, making it easier for ambulances and other vehicles to get into the Indian Path campus. In addition to the hospital, the campus includes Indian Path Pavilion, medical office buildings, and a recently built Sullivan County Emergency Medical Services station.

The hospital also reconfigured its parking lot, adding 90 spaces by taking in new space and reconfiguring the parking.

Monty McLaurin, chief executive officer of Indian Path since January 2005, said renewed activity on the hospital began shortly after MSHA was formed and bought Indian Path from HCA in 1998.

The hospital has 703 employees.

“Our investments since ’99 have been heavily on technology, particularly with radiologic medicine,” McLaurin said.

MSHA has invested more than $38 million in Indian Path, including an enlarged emergency department, new medical office buildings, a PET-CT scanner, and a pending 64-slice CT used for cardiac work.

It also has a new family child birth center that opened in 2004 and most recently built two new operating rooms. It also has developed specialty floors, including the new third-floor surgical operation. McLaurin said that makes it easier for doctors, nurses and case managers to serve patients.

“We had concentrated most of our investments on equipment and technology,” McLaurin said, adding that HCA had basically stopped buying new equipment in the years leading to the sale to MSHA.

In addition, most of the inside of the hospital has been renovated and bed capacity increased.

“It’s all renovated. It’s all new. It’s easy to see the changes whenever you walk down the hall,” said MSHA spokesman James Watson.

The hospital utilizes 178 beds but is expanding that to 200, although it is licensed for 330. Like Holston Valley, it has phased out semiprivate rooms.

“Nobody wants semiprivate anymore,” McLaurin said.

In 1998, he said average daily census was as little as 15 patients, while these days the emergency department alone sees about 100 patients a day, and about 12 percent of those are admitted to the hospital.

MSHA on Nov. 14 opened a ValuCare clinic at the new Food City at the Crown Point shopping center on Eastman Road. A nurse practitioner, overseen by a doctor, sees patients for a $40 flat fee, with no insurance accepted.

It was the first ValuCare clinic in Kingsport and the fourth in the region.

McLaurin and Watson said the clinics, open in the day the same hours as the Food City pharmacy, are handy for patients and help take pressure off emergency departments.

The ValuCare clinics are operated by Blue Ridge Medical Management Co., a for-profit group that owns a multi-specialty practice owned by MSHA. A part of Blue Ridge called the Blue Ridge Physician Group in Kingsport has 35 providers in eight practices, including East Tennessee Obstetrics and Gynecology and Appalachian Obstetrics in Kingsport.

Blue Ridge plans to open a First Assist Urgent Care Center in Kingsport in about 90 days, said Kilgore, and Blue Ridge’s real estate division built a 58,000-square-foot medical office building on the Indian Path campus in 2003 for $7 million and a 52,000-sqaure-foot, $9 million building there in 2006.

Highlands Wellmont Health Network, Wellmont Physician Services and various other practices operate in Kingsport, but the city’s largest multi-specialty practice is Holston Medical Group, founded in 1977 and headquartered in Kingsport.

It is building a new $30 million, 265,000-square-foot, six-story physicians building at the outpatient campus, set to be completed in mid-2008 and have Region’s Bank, Wellmont, some sort of food services and/or restaurant and possibly other tenants, HMG Executive Director Craig Kilgore said. He is no relation to Steve Kilgore of Blue Ridge, although Steve Kilgore once held Craig Kilgore’s position at HMG.

In 2004, HMG opened the $11 million, three-story MeadowView Lane Professional Center, housing HMG operations and United Healthcare.

And also in the MeadowView area is Sheridan Square, a multi-use office complex including medical offices developed by former Alderman Dave Clark.

The office park, which began in 1999, will have about 165,000 square feet and represents an investment of $30 million. Medical tenants in place include Blue Ridge Neuroscience, Arthritis Associates, ETSU Physician Associates, and Ear, Nose and Throat Associates, with a women’s oncology center also planned.

“There’s so much happening,” Craig Kilgore said of the medical community in Kingsport.

He said HMG, founded by Dr. Jerry Miller and growing to almost 800 employees, has placed a special emphasis on preventative medicine with its Health U programs, including Lose It 4 Good targeting obesity in Kingsport school children, Kick It for Good targeting tobacco use, Living Well with Diabetes, and the Vascular Medical Center, targeting heart issues.

Of 152 providers in the HMG system, Kilgore said about 110 are physicians, and of those 80 practice in Kingsport.

“This has always been and will always be a place where people come for health care,” Assistant City Manager for Development Jeff Fleming said. “If you need a doctor’s appointment in this area, you can usually get one within a reasonable time period. If you’ve never lived anywhere else, you may not realize how hard it is to get an appointment in other places. And that’s an asset.”

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