GREENEVILLE - The drive to build a new Regional Children's Hospital at Johnson City Medical Center has received a $10 million boost from Greeneville philanthropist and businessman Scott Niswonger and his wife, Nikki.
Niswonger announced the couple's $10 million donation to the capital campaign to build the new hospital Friday evening at a Mountain States Health Alliance appreciation dinner at The General Morgan Inn.
The gift followed a previous $1 million contribution from the Niswongers to the campaign and puts the drive within $5 million of its $25 million goal.
"As we looked at what could be accomplished for the region in Johnson City, we believed our stake in this should be increased to see it completed," Niswonger said.
He said the hospital's unique relationship with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis made the decision easy.
Niswonger said the Regional Children's Hospital at JCMC houses one of only five free cancer treatment centers for children in the world affiliated with St. Jude, "the world's leading health care provider for children."
He emphasized that the facility spares families in this area the hardship of lengthy stays for outpatient treatment in Memphis.
Niswonger also expressed excitement about new designs for the exterior of the hospital that the $10 million donation will make possible.
"We thought of this hospital in the context of the other buildings and thought all of that should be a backdrop for what we are going to build in this facility.
"We wanted not just another building but a facility that will be exciting and inviting, maybe even a little whimsical on the outside with a lot of colors, so that parents and children as they are driving up that drive will see something warm and unique and exciting. We wanted an inviting place for children who are scared to death and headed in that direction when they are sick.
"It's an inspiration to do something to make a sick child feel comfortable," Niswonger said.
MSHA President and CEO Dennis Vonderfecht said new plans for the building's exterior will be unveiled at a May 16 groundbreaking ceremony that will kick off construction. The project is expected to be completed in late 2008 or early 2009.
In addition to an estimated total of $20 million raised by the capital campaign, MSHA has committed an additional $9 million to the total $34 million cost of the project.
The new facility will nearly triple the size of the current children's hospital, expanding from a 21,000-square-foot space inside the medical center to a 60,500-square-foot facility attached to main hospital building.
Amenities will include the region's first pediatric emergency room, two pediatric operating rooms, 20 general pediatric beds, 10 pediatric intensive care beds, and 39 neonatal intensive care beds. The interior will feature larger, more family-friendly rooms to better accommodate parents staying with their children during hospitalizations and separate play and recreation areas for older and younger children.
Niswonger, chairman of Landair Holdings and founder of the Niswonger Foundation supporting education and economic development across the region, received the 2006 Mountain States Foundation Spirit Award for philanthropic contributions including his support for the children's hospital.
A news release from MSHA on Friday assured his name will be permanently attached to the new facility.
"Pediatric health care has a new name in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia: Niswonger," MSHA stated in the release. "The working title at this time is Niswonger Children's Hospital."
"Scott Niswonger has shown his generosity in many projects in our region, but with The Children's Hospital the impact of his benevolence will be far reaching for years to come," Vonderfecht said.
"The money he has donated will enable children to receive the highly specialized medical care they need right here in the Tri-Cities region."