Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 17, 2017

Erlanger East: Moving beyond babies

Erlanger East CEO Dr. Phil Jackson takes a brisk walk outside the hospital’s new additions which includes a putting green and a playground. - Photograph by Alex McMahan

Erlanger East has long been the preferred place in Chattanooga to have a baby.

When its CEO, Dr. Phillip Jackson, gives presentations about the hospital in the community and asks if anyone has had a baby at Erlanger East, or knows someone who has, “hands go up all over the place.”

Known for decades as Erlanger Women’s East, baby deliveries have been the hospital’s mainstay since its inception in the 1980s.

While Erlanger East is still providing the services that gave it a legacy in the community, it is no longer considered just a women’s hospital.

Following the completion of a $50 million expansion in 2016, Erlanger East is now a full-service lifestyle hospital.

The expansion includes a 58-bed patient tower that provides medical and surgical care, a six-bed intensive care unit and a cardiovascular interventional radiology lab.

Other new services include around-the-clock emergency care and centers for breast health and obstetrics.

The expansion was birthed in the mind of Erlanger Health System President and CEO Kevin Spiegel, who wanted his baby to grow up.

“About 68 percent of the population in Hamilton County is located in the eastern portion of the county, and they were driving past us to go to Erlanger main or one of the other downtown hospitals,” says Jackson. “We felt it was important to offer more services to our community.”

Jackson says the intent was never to replicate everything being done at Baroness Erlanger Hospital, which houses a Level I trauma center, major in-patient and surgical departments and an ambulatory care center.

Rather, Erlanger East was designed to tackle less acute events like outpatient surgery and the other things that briefly impact a working family’s life.

“While we’re proud of our reputation as a women’s hospital, we felt it was important to become more than that,” Jackson says. “It’s what this community needed.”

Hospitality-driven care

Although Spiegel wanted to transform Erlanger East into a full service hospital, he didn’t want it to feel like a typical hospital. Instead, he wanted it to project warmth and comfort.

“When we were planning the expansion, we didn’t visit other hospitals to see what they looked like, we went to Embassy Suites and the Marriott to see what they looked like,” Jackson says. “We believe that an environment that feels good is part of a patient’s healing.”

The new Erlanger East experience begins the moment a patient steps through the door and into the lobby. The expansive waiting area features comfortable seating, locally produced artwork, a working fireplace, a large flat screen television, Wi-Fi access, free coffee and water and walls made of artfully arranged wood beams, giving the room a unique and welcoming look, Jackson points out.

The two floors that make up the patient tower are located above the lobby. Open now for only a few months, the rooms continue the theme of hospitality started downstairs.

Each of the tower’s 58 rooms are 300 square feet in size, offering ample room for hospital staff as well as family and friends. While the decor might seem lifted out of an upscale hotel, patients also appreciate the 42-inch flat screen television, on-demand food service, a pull-out sofa bed and huge windows.

“We wanted patients and families to feel really comfortable while they’re here,” Jackson says. “When you walk into other hospitals, you feel like you’re in a hospital. But Erlanger East is different.”

The hospitality of Erlanger East extends to the cafeteria, which serves freshly prepared foods, and to the grounds outside, which feature a mile-long walking trail that encompasses the hospital, a putting green and a brand new playground.

Jackson isn’t just a spokesperson for the amenities at Erlanger East, he’s a fan as well. “I have an hour-long meeting each week with my leadership team. We spend the first ten minutes walking the trail.”Women’s services

In its drive to become a full-service hospital, Erlanger East has not neglected the foundation on which it was built, Jackson says. Rather, it is now offering more women’s services than ever before.

The core model for delivering an exceptional child birth experience is still intact. Expectant mothers meet with their OB/GYN at the hospital, are given a tour of the facility as the big day approaches and are then settled into one room for the duration of the event – from labor and delivery to recovery and postpartum.

This approach, combined with the passion and commitment of the doctors and nurses who work at Erlanger East, continue to attract a significant amount of business, Jackson says. As a result, the hospital added 18 beds in December, giving it 43 beds for child deliveries.

Erlanger East also bumped the number of beds in its neonatal intensive care unit from six beds to 10.

“Our deliveries continue to rise, and we don’t want to turn away anyone from the experience they had with us before or from what they have heard we provide,” Jackson explains.

Erlanger East is also home to the Center for Breast Health, which was part of the expansion Spiegel envisioned. In addition to ultrasound and bone density machines, the center has a basic digital machine and a tomosynthesis machine for conducting mammographies. The latter produces a three-dimensional image of the breast.

Erlanger was the first hospital in the Chattanooga market to use tomosynthesis, which Jackson says allows for a deeper image of dense breasts.

To ensure a smooth experience for breast center patients, Erlanger East has set aside special parking that allows a woman to pull up and walk directly into the hospital.

“Getting a mammography can make a person anxious, so we decided to offer specialized services to help make coming here a good experience,” he says.

The personal touch

The expansion at Erlanger East went further than the services it provides and the brick and mortar that accommodates them. The hospital also changed its philosophy for patient care, bringing it in line with the new push for care that accompanies patients outside the walls of the facility.

“Patients are no longer transactions,’’ Jackson explains. “They don’t walk in, receive a service and go home. There was a time when that was goodbye, but today, health care providers are communicating with one another to ensure a smooth transition of care.

“Essentially, doctors are talking to doctors. It puts the patient at the center of the health care system.”

Erlanger East has added another link to the chain of care: patient navigators. These health care professionals follow-up with patients to ensure they are taking their medication correctly, learn if they are having any difficulties and determine if they need additional help.

“We need to make sure the patient doesn’t end up back here,” Jackson says.

The level of follow-up can be extensive. Stacy Jones, a patient navigator for the Center for Breast Health, sits with women as they receive radiation treatments and chemotherapy, gives her cell phone number to her patients and takes calls nights and weekends.

Jones often spends enough time with her patients to eventually think of them as family.

“My job is to make sure they’re comfortable and OK,” Jones says. “I just said goodbye to a patient we’ve had for a little over a year. It’s an awesome feeling to have been there through the entire process.”

“We don’t do business transactions here,” Jackson adds. “We take care of human beings and build relationships with them.”

The future at Erlanger East

After pouring years of effort and tens of millions of dollars into recasting itself as a full-service hospital, the people who make up Erlanger East have earned a breather. But they’re not taking one.

Next up on the hospital’s agenda is the construction of a satellite cancer center. The four-story, 90,000 square foot facility will be built adjacent to the current facility and encompass a host of relevant services.

“We’re still in the creative thinking phase as far as what we’re going to put in there,” Jackson says. “But I can tell you it will be easy to access and include the same kind of warm and welcoming environment we have here.”

Jackson expects the cancer center to open within the next couple of years. In the mean time, Erlanger East will continue to settle into its role as a full service hospital, and Jackson will look forward to seeing “hands go up all over the place” when he talks with the community about its continuing legacy as the place where lives in Chattanooga begin.