East Tennessee’s only Catholic hospital is growing, building new medical center in North Georgia
By Claire Collins
CHI Memorial, East Tennessee’s only Catholic hospital located in Chattanooga, is making good on a promise to bring the best care to the people of North Georgia through the building of a new hospital.
CHI Memorial, operated by CommonSpirit Health, announced its plans over the summer to begin working on a new facility in Catoosa County, Ga. Although already present in an older facility, having served the area since 1994, Memorial will now be able to bring the most up-to-date and advanced care to a people who need and deserve it. Andrew McGill, senior vice president of strategy, business development, and government relations for CHI Memorial, is excited to do just that.
“You need a new hospital, you need a new facility, you need a modern, contemporary place that you can feel good about. So these years later, we’re getting to honor that commitment,” Mr. McGill said.
Already present in North Georgia are multiple CHI Memorial primary care clinics, a surgical clinic, a sleep center, and a cancer center. They have seen 80,000 primary-care visits in North Georgia alone.
CHI Memorial also recently became the round-the-clock ambulatory-care service for the area. But, as need continues to increase, Memorial wants to make sure the residents of Catoosa County are getting full care in a facility that can continue to meet their ever-changing needs.
“We have to be mindful of changes and realities in our world and post-COVID,” Mr. McGill said, “mindful of how we’ve done things in the past that are probably not going to be acceptable (now). You have to be very strategic about the population and what the population needs and orient your health-care ministry around the population.”
For the planning committee, access is a key factor motivating the new build. As the community in Catoosa County continues to transform, the hospital’s new location will give Memorial greater access to serve a larger population of people in the community in a more efficient way.
“Business commerce, residential development have all moved to east of where the hospital is today, onto the Parkway, and that’s where we already have our cancer and surgery center. It’s really becoming a new health-care center for the area,” Mr. McGill emphasized.
“Putting (the new hospital) where it’s more convenient, it’s in the middle of where most of the population is. So, access will be a lot easier for that part of North Georgia and in proximity to the interstate. It will be a facility that, not only is it new, but it’s more accessible and nearer where people are, and we think, therefore, will be a much more successful operation,” he added.
Memorial’s main campus in Chattanooga saw a $318 million expansion in 2014. The highlight of that project was construction of the new Guerry Heart and Vascular Center. The hospital already performed over 800 open-heart surgeries a year, and the new center helped cement the hospital’s reputation as one of the best, if not the best, in the area. As CHI Memorial continues to build its reputation for excellent care, the new hospital in North Georgia will expand this legacy.
Mr. McGill and the planning committee currently are in the process of getting state approval for the project and are finalizing building and design plans. While much of this work was done last year, COVID set back plans and practically made them start again on a new timeline.
“Because of the post-COVID environment, there are some things you just want to make certain, like ‘does this still make sense?’” Mr. McGill said. “The new hospital being built in a post-COVID era will take into consideration various aspects you used to take for granted inside a hospital, like having access for patients to get tests, screenings, and procedures done away from those who are sick with more contagious viruses and diseases.”
Memorial attributes its success to a unified mission and vision. From its start in 1952 initiated by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, and supported by the generosity of the East Tennessee and Chattanooga community, Memorial has continued its mission to bring Christ’s healing power to those in need.
“We are a health system that has at its heart the mission of extending the healing ministry of the Church and of Christ,” Mr. McGill said, “And that matters greatly in how we go about our daily work, care of patients, and how we approach everything we do…. Our mission, we take it to heart. If you stay focused on your mission and the values and the community, the people you serve, you really have a leg up.”
Jean Payne, Memorial’s volunteer director for 17 years, knows just how special working for a Catholic hospital can be.
“With us, so many people are thankful that we are faith-based and mission-centered,” Ms. Payne remarked. “And we can speak to that openly because that’s who we are. All our values, everything we stand for is mission-centered. You’re going to see the crucifixes in patients’ rooms, little signs like ‘Have you thanked God today?’ So it’s a tangible reminder of our mission, that we’re here to continue the healing ministry of Christ.”
For Ms. Payne, Memorial’s teamwork under its strong mission and set of values really sets it apart from other hospitals and gives it the opportunity to serve the whole patient. While a volunteer may not be able to meet a patient’s medical needs, their emotional and spiritual needs can be carefully cared for through the service of her volunteers, many of whom have firsthand experience with Memorial’s service.
“Our volunteers provide amazing support to staff. They also help provide a great patient and guest experience. They also love to get involved in their community. Many of our volunteers become a volunteer because they’ve received wonderful service from one of our Memorial campuses or outpatient facilities and they would like to give back. They see that there’s an opportunity and they can make a difference because they have personally felt that difference themselves.”
Memorial boasts a number of recent awards and recognitions. It received a five-star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and is one of only three hospitals in Tennessee to achieve that distinction.
It also was named Best Regional Hospital by U.S. News and World Report and the Best of the Best by the Chattanooga Times Free Press newspaper. For Ms. Payne, it is the combination of excellent medical staff and services and the passion of the volunteers that make that success possible.
“It’s the team that makes that happen, and the volunteers are a part of that team,” she said.
For Ms. Payne, plans for a new hospital mean an expansion to the volunteer program as well.
“Several of the volunteers here also live in the North Georgia area…it’s exciting because we all knew that area was in need of acute-care services, and the North Georgia community is so excited and so supportive there won’t be any trouble at all getting volunteers to come on board,” she said.
Groundbreaking on the new Georgia facility is set to take place in spring or early summer of 2022 and be completed mid-2024. While there are no immediate plans for continued expansion in the Chattanooga area, Mr. McGill hopes the Georgia expansion, as well as the new perspective the COVID pandemic has given health-care systems, will also lead to other growth.
“Health systems are always trying to figure out what they need to be doing next. Growth is about being more consumer centric, being where people are, and doing everything we can to eliminate barriers to access. New hospitals and other things on the Tennessee side of the line, we’re looking at what we need to add and replace and that’s an ongoing exercise,” he said.
As CHI Memorial continues to see growth and success, the Catholic Church in East Tennessee can be excited and hopeful to know that, in this special way, the love of Christ is being carried into and throughout the greater Chattanooga community and the Diocese of Knoxville.