City Council backs new medical facility

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(Clockwise, from top left) City Council member Charles Thomas, Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie, Deputy to the Mayor David Brace, and Council member Lynne Fugate — with Mayor Indya Kincannon (center) — discuss opening a new health facility at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Photos from CTV.

Knoxville City Council on Tuesday agreed unanimously to partner with Knox County to open a medical center specializing in mental health care on part of the old St. Mary’s Hospital property. 

The goal is to provide some relief to hospital emergency rooms throughout the area who are overwhelmed by patients needing help.

“This is a hospital emergency room diversion program,” said Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon.

The North Knoxville facility will also include an urgent care center equipped to handle minor ailments and injuries. 

Chief Operating Officer and Deputy to the Mayor David Brace explained the City and County will buy the former Tennova Surgery Center at 1515 St. Mary’s Street for approximately $1.747 million.

The two-story, 25,000-square foot building was built in the late 1990s and has plenty of space for an urgent care clinic on the first floor plus between 20 and 40 patient beds, he said. 

It’s too soon in the process to say who will actually operate the facility, he continued, but the McNabb Center has been involved in the discussions.

The nine-member Council seemed to enthusiastically embrace the plan, although some posed questions about the clinic’s location and operations before giving it their support.

Council member Amelia Parker was concerned that the planned facility will be next to the new Knoxville Police Department headquarters, which is also being built on another part of the former St. Mary’s campus. 

“I’m excited about this … My concern is ensuring this is an opportunity for folks to receive care and treatment, and that there’s no association with the police department right next door,” she said. “Without those details, I’m hesitant.”

Brace assured her, however, that the only connection between the clinic and KPD will be the fact that they’ll be neighbors.

Council member Lauren Rider wanted to know about paying for the poor and underinsured.

“We have a considerable number of people with no coverage,” she said. “One of the reasons the previous hospital left this location is that they were providing a lot of the indigent care in our community, and they went to another part of town where there were people with better insurance.” 

Kincannon said that she and County Mayor Glenn Jacobs met last week with Governor Bill Lee and she was optimistic the state will contribute money to the endeavor.

“I’m hopeful there is some way we can get even more beds at this facility,” said Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie. “Twenty to 40 beds is not a big number, but it’s more than what we have right now.”

Despite the questions, however, it was clear that Lynne Fugate summed up the feelings of her fellow Council members shortly before the unanimous vote.

“There are lots of details to get the ball rolling on this, but we can’t afford to miss this,” she said. 

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com.

Published on October 20, 2021.