The absence of a healthcare facility in various parts of our community has compounding effects on our residents, effects that have already begun with the closing of the former St. Mary’s/Tennova North Knoxville campus.
I was not in agreement with the city’s deal to purchase the St. Mary’s site for $1 in order to move police and fire there when that deal includes a $16 million PILOT for Tennova’s new Middlebrook site that spans 15 years and in some ways co-signs their removal of a vital hospital service in North Knox to the now PILOT-supported Middlebrook location. I believe that there are better uses for the St. Mary’s site and find it unfortunate that a public safety complex, which is not subject to zoning regulations, would be located next to a residential area. In addition, more centralized locations should have been considered by the city such as reconfiguring the current location on Hall of Fame into a mixed use space. It is not clear whether moving or renovating the current space would be the most cost effective for the city. From the numbers that I have heard, preparing the site at the former St. Mary’s Hospital may far exceed the price tag of demolishing and rebuilding the public safety complex at its current location but the city would need to present those numbers for public scrutiny and this is something the city has yet to do despite calls from the community for it to do so. Now that city council has approved the move, however, the city must implement a comprehensive plan that includes expanding public transportation to ensure easy access to the municipal court, which will also be a part of the move.
In thinking about what should go in the former St. Mary’s site, the city must promote healthy neighborhoods by helping secure the services needed in each part of our city. With the closing of Baptist Hospital and now the Tennova North campus, much of our health services within the city limits are now concentrated in West Knox even with the expansion of the emergency room at Fort Sanders and the 38 beds added at the UT Medical Center. Long term, this could lead to poorer health outcomes for our residents living in other parts of the city. The city must partner with the county and the state to secure the mental and physical health care facilities that our residents need throughout the city. The former St. Mary’s site previously provided emergency psychiatric beds for residents in need and as a city, we should work with community partners to close any gaps created by the loss of these beds and work to expand access to mental health services for our city residents.