New CHI Memorial Hospital Gears Up to Shake Up North Georgia’s Healthcare Market



Longtime Catoosa County resident Angie Stiggins has been on the roller coaster of the North Georgia healthcare market since she started working in respiratory care at Fort Oglethorpe Community Hospital in 1987 .

Stiggins built his career in what was once the Tri-County Hospital and later became the Hutcheson Medical Center – a name local residents don’t easily forget.

Hutcheson has faced the common plight of community hospitals outside the major Southeastern metropolitan areas. Once a point of pride and a mainstay of the Tri-County region of North Georgia, which encompasses Catoosa, Walker, and Dade counties, Hutcheson struggled to compete with the larger systems in Chattanooga and eventually dropped his balance sheet in 2015.

While the closure of Hutcheson represented the end of an era, it was also the beginning of the rise of the Chattanooga-based CHI Memorial to market share dominance in the North Georgia region – which s ‘solidified in July, when Memorial announced plans to build a new hospital in Catoosa County. on Battlefield Parkway between Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe.

Memorial began providing primary health care services in North Georgia in 1994, but has significantly expanded its presence since 2015, when the health system took over the former Hutcheson medical clinics in Trenton and Chickamauga.

“It means the world to us here, because when we have to shut anything, it’s really heartbreaking. We chained the doors and put plywood on the windows, and that’s my life mission, we won’t allow never let that happen, ”said Stiggins, who is now a director of CHI Memorial Hospital-Georgia.

In late 2017, Memorial acquired the Fort Oglethorpe Hospital operations, naming the facility CHI Memorial Hospital-Georgia. Memorial also acquired the former Hutcheson Ambulatory Surgery and Cancer Center on Battlefield Parkway, 2 miles from Interstate 75, as well as an adjacent 27-acre lot that will house the new hospital in an area in full swing. growth which has become the local hub of commerce. and development.

“Where this hospital campus is today, it’s not where the growth is happening. The growth is over there on Battlefield Parkway, and we have to get out where the growth is happening,” Stiggins said.

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Memorial restored cancer treatment to the Battlefield Parkway facility in 2018 and imaging in 2020, and so far in 2021 has opened a sleep lab at the hospital, a sleep clinic at the Parkway and outpatient surgery on the Parkway.

“When Hutcheson Medical Center closed its cancer center, we had patients who were undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy who told us point blank, ‘I’m not taking any more treatment. I will not be driving to downtown Chattanooga for my treatment, ”Stiggins says. “This is how important it is to be able to provide home services to our community.

But as Hutcheson sank, the needs of the community also increased, and many patients ended up seeking care in hospitals in Chattanooga.

Hospital records from the Georgia Department of Community Health show that only a small percentage of residents of Catoosa and Walker counties travel south to Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, Ga., Meaning Chattanooga hospitals have been the primary beneficiaries of Hutcheson’s demise and remain CHI Memorial’s biggest competitors. Georgia.

In 2019, 4,419 hospital admissions at Erlanger Medical Center in downtown Chattanooga and Erlanger East Hospital were from Catoosa and Walker counties, compared to 3,028 admissions to these same counties in 2014 , according to the latest joint annual hospital reports filed with the Tennessee Department. of health.

Parkridge Medical Center downtown and Parkridge East – the closest hospital to CHI Memorial Hospital in Georgia – recorded 4,254 combined admissions from Catoosa and Walker counties in 2019 compared to 3,524 in 2014.

Hospital reports only include data for counties other than Tennessee that account for at least 1% of admissions, so there are no specific figures for Dade County or any other Georgia county.

Stiggins said Memorial has gradually regained market share that Hutcheson lost by restoring community trust and lost services.

In February, Memorial took over as the ambulance service provider for Walker and Dade counties, which she said was “a game-changer” by increasing the volume of the hospital as ambulances were no longer available. no longer bypass the Georgia hospital in favor of those in Chattanooga.

Memorial’s new hospital, slated for completion in mid-2024, is the next step in improving access to health care across the tri-counties and overcoming the negative perception associated with the old hospital that Hutcheson owned.

“There are people who still do not know that this hospital [in Fort Oglethorpe] is open, but there are also people who have given up on health care because they won’t be driving in Chattanooga, ”Stiggins said. t get to Chattanooga – and it is difficult for some of our residents. This is why it is so important that we provide all the services that we can offer here at home for the community here – this is what they want, they have said it loud and clear. “

The new hospital will also be more conducive to today’s healthcare as it offers more outpatient services. The old hospital is more difficult to navigate and has 179 inpatient beds compared to the roughly 64 inpatient beds Memorial plans to start when the new hospital opens.

“When Hutcheson was in his prime, if you had your gallbladder removed, you were literally in the hospital for 10 days. It’s now a day’s surgery. You come in and out in a few hours,” a- she declared. “But if you have to stay in the hospital, obviously we will provide inpatient services as well as surgical services and a higher standard of care. Currently, we have no [intensive care unit] on the Georgia campus. “

Georgia State Senator Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said the importance of Memorial’s new hospital brings more to the community than better access to health care.

“It creates jobs and career paths,” said Mullis, who is an economic developer in addition to his role as a state senator. “Whenever we try to recruit businesses and industry in the area, or the existing industry expands instead of relocating, they always want a good medical facility in the area, and CHI Memorial Georgia will provide that. “

Mullis said he believes Memorial has succeeded in an area where others have failed due to his strong leadership and reputation. However, Memorial’s takeover in North Georgia represents a larger healthcare trend of major healthcare systems acquiring smaller community hospitals across the country.

Memorial is part of Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health, which formed in 2019 when Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) and Dignity Health merged to form the largest nonprofit health care system in the United States, giving it the resources needed to build a new hospital than the ever-decreasing number of small independent hospitals are generally lacking.

“The only thing that is constant in healthcare is change. It’s a fact,” Stiggins said. “Unfortunately for Hutcheson Medical Center, if you don’t change, you are dying. “

Contact Elizabeth Fite at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @ecfite.


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