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Indian Path Medical Center marks 35 years of service

Sharon Hayes • Apr 4, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — In the early 1970s, an empty hospital bed was a rare sight in Kingsport.

According to old newspaper clippings, folks needing medical care had to be put on a waiting list for admittance to Holston Valley Hospital.

Seeing the need, some local physicians began working with Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America and its founder, Dr. Thomas Frist Sr., to construct a 150-bed medical center in Kingsport. HCA acquired a tract of land just north of Stone Drive near John B. Dennis Highway, and in 1971, HCA officials joined local physicians to break ground on the estimated $4.5 million project.

Three years later, the new Indian Path Medical Center welcomed its first patients. And on Sept. 8, 1974, a local newspaper headline declared: “No more waiting list at HV Hospital.”

Indian Path Medical Center recently held an anniversary reception to celebrate its 35 years in operation. Some of the 10 employees and three physicians who have worked at the facility all those years shared some of their remembrances.

“We’ve been here since the first patient,” said registered nurse Betty Bell, who was a licensed practical nurse when the hospital opened, working toward her RN degree.

“I was really excited about the opening of this hospital. It was all new. It offered things that really were unheard of at the time, like private rooms for the patients. No one had that back then.”

IPMC opened as a for-profit hospital under the HCA umbrella. It took its name from a trail which ancient native Americans used to travel on the east side of town. During construction of the hospital, Indian relics such as weapons and eating utensils were unearthed and are now on display in the hospital’s lobby.

Indian Path was originally planned as a four-story building, but officials quickly saw the need to expand, and a decision was made to add another three stories, giving the hospital capacity to hold 300 patient beds.

Meanwhile, medical office buildings were planned for the site, including Indian Path Pavilion, a behavioral health facility.

The hospital campus continued to grow through the years.

Then in 1998, Indian Path became part of Mountain States Health Alliance, which was formed as a nonprofit entity after Johnson City Medical Center purchased six for-profit hospitals in the region.

Under the nonprofit umbrella of MSHA, Indian Path Medical Center continued its growth, first announcing in 2001 a major expansion and construction project that would double the size of its emergency department, expand outpatient services and add a new 44,000-square-foot office building to the campus.

Most recently, IPMC expanded its intensive care unit, renovated its laboratory and ICU waiting area, and added 90 new parking spaces.

IPMC also recently moved its geriatric psychiatric services from the seventh floor of the hospital to Indian Path Pavilion. Indian Path Chief Executive Officer Monty McLaurin said the move is allowing the hospital to expand its medical surgical capacity on the seventh floor. Renovations on that level are now being completed.

Today, the Indian Path campus sits on more than 80 acres of land and includes the hospital and eight medical office buildings — all owned by Mountain States. Two other medical office buildings on the campus are privately owned.

Services at IPMC include an emergency department, a family-centered birthing center and a full range of behavioral and addiction services, plus geriatric psychiatric services, through Indian Path Pavilion.

Long-time employees said they’ve stayed at the hospital for most of their professional lives because of its family atmosphere and good working conditions.

“We grew up together,” said Marie Lingerfelt, lab outreach manager for Synergy Labs, a Mountain States service based at IPMC. “When we first opened, many naysayers said it would never last. But we had a lot of determination and came together. People who started coming here were very impressed by what we were doing.”

Wanda Britt, environmental services manager for IPMC, said the hospital stands out because of the staff’s caring attitude for patients.

“People who came here said it was like staying at a hotel,” Britt said of patients in the hospital’s early days. “And we still work to make them feel like that.”

McLaurin said the hospital “has really stayed true to itself for 35 years.”

“It’s a real testament to two things: A real quality medical staff and our team members who are second to none,” he said.

McLaurin, who joined Indian Path in January 2004 but who has worked in health care since 1976, said Indian Path, as well as the rest of the nation’s hospitals, has seen tremendous changes in the last 35 years.

And much of it has to do with technology.

“When I first got started in North Alabama, I had the privilege of being the first person in the entire hospital to actually get a desktop mirco-computer,” McLaurin said. “It was an old IBM and came in a huge box. I was the only one who knew how to operate one — I had just gotten out of graduate school.”

In comparison, IPMC is now serving as the pilot facility for all of Mountain States in the electronic medical records roll out, McLaurin said.

“When you come in and you’re registered at Indian Path, you don’t even sign a paper document. You sign one of these electronic signature pads, and your information and even your signature goes right into the record,” he said.

He said the hospital was chosen as a test site because of its size and because it has prior experience with electronic recordkeeping.

Technology has impacted other areas of the hospital as well, including the radiology department. In the mid 1970s, McLaurin said, radiology films were heavy and bulky and required lots of room for storage.

“Fast forward that — everything is digitized now, so the storage space takes up a fraction of what it did before, and the speed of being able to access that is incredible,” McLaurin said.

And actual patient care has also been greatly impacted by technology, as surgical procedures that once required long stays in the hospital now are minimally invasive with small incisions and short recovery periods. Many procedures are now done on an outpatient basis.

“I can remember when somebody would have cataract surgery — the patient ended up having to lay flat on his back with patches on his eyes for up to four days. Now cataract surgery is done on an outpatient basis,” McLaurin said.

The health care payment system has also seen major changes since Indian Path opened 35 years ago, with the introduction of managed care, health maintenance organizations, and preferred provider organizations.

HMOs — health maintenance organizations — were popular for a time, but quickly fell out of favor when patients lost their choice of doctors and hospitals. Next came PPOs — preferred provider organizations — in which insurance companies negotiated rates with hospitals and physicians for patient care. Today, universal health care is being discussed, a plan that would give medical access to all Americans. Just how to pay for it is the question.

“Fundamentally I think everybody knows that something is going to have to be done,” McLaurin said.

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