“This is truly a great day for both Unicoi County and for Ballad Health,” Unicoi County Hospital Administrator Eric Carroll said ahead of the ribbon-cutting and public tour.
“It’s been a long road. From the time our vision committee first met and we drafted our first plans, to the first shovel of dirt being turned over last summer. But now we’re here at the finish line.”
The new hospital will be open to EMS traffic at 7 a.m. Tuesday, at which time new patients will be accepted and those in need of continued hospital stays will be transferred from the old Unicoi County Memorial Hospital, which will remain open until all transfers are completed.
The new facility, which has been in the works since last year, includes a 24-hour emergency department with a telemedicine connection to Niswonger Children’s Hospital; 10 inpatient beds; pulmonary, cardiac and acute care services; a chest pain center; standard and advanced diagnostics, including nuclear medicine; and outpatient services.
“I have seen how this region has expanded into a very sophisticated regional medical center,” U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, said.
“I will tell you as a physician, my mouth was watering when I went through this X-ray department,” he said later. “I would suspect that there will be some people driving from Johnson City to Unicoi County to get their MRIs. It is the most modern facility on the planet.”
CEO Alan Levine said introducing health care facilities such as these are particularly important in rural areas similar to Unicoi County, many of which have experienced hospital closures in recent years. Levine said he believes Ballad Health’s “regional enterprise,” which came as a result of the recent merger between Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System, is what helped make the new hospital a reality.
“If Unicoi County Memorial Hospital was here by itself, it would go the way of 80 other hospitals throughout the country. It probably would’ve closed,” he said. “This building is a monument to the whole discussion we’re having now about regionalism because as a region, look how much stronger we are. If we were trying to stand on our own, we probably couldn’t.”
Following the ribbon-cutting, hundreds from the public went on a self-guided tour to check out the new hospital, including new “state-of-the-art design and technology” and diagnostic equipment Carroll said will improve the delivery of health care.
“This new hospital means Ballad Health is all in in Unicoi County,” he said.