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VOL. 131 | NO. 258 | Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Memphis Health Care Thrives With Investments, Growth

By Andy Meek

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Methodist Healthcare made a “great commitment” to Memphis this year. Those are the words of Methodist University Hospital CEO Jeff Liebman, who referenced the health care system’s multimillion-dollar investment into its flagship hospital at 1265 Union Ave., part of a master plan that will give the facility a modern overhaul.

But in his conversation with The Daily News about that project – one example of a construction and investment boom the local health care industry fueled throughout 2016 – Liebman could just as well have been making a larger point about a groundswell of activity his employer and others have generated.

2016 was a transformative year for the industry in Memphis. Hospitals, clinics and other facilities found themselves flush with resources, cash to spend and updated master plans; rolled out new technology, shuffled executive ranks; pursued ambitious building projects; and laid the groundwork for another productive year to come.

Methodist’s top executive – CEO Gary Shorb, whose last day in the role he’s held for 15 years is Dec. 31 – considered the state of the industry in an interview with The Daily News about his career and said he was upbeat about the future.

Methodist Healthcare made a $280 million commitment to enhance its flagship Methodist University Hospital campus, part of a health care building and investment boom seen around the city in 2016.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

“I tell young people all the time that health care is still a wonderful career, and I have more optimism now than probably at any time since I’ve been working in health care,” said Shorb, who’s being succeeded Jan. 1 by Michael Ugwueke.

It’s not just Shorb. Jan Bouten, a partner at the investment entity Innova, can look out his office window at 20 S. Dudley St. and see no less than five medical institutions in his line of sight. He and Innova write checks and facilitate relationships to grow more of those institutions big and small – and Memphis, he says, is “just getting started.”

Here are some of the reasons why he and others feel that way, including a snapshot of some of the big moments in health care in Memphis during 2016:

As far as Methodist goes, the Methodist University Hospital Parking Plaza will open on Jan. 9, adding 100 additional parking spaces to the campus and bringing the total number to 700. It’s one piece of a $280 million plan that will add 440,000 square feet to the MUH campus and remove another 240,000 with the demolition of the Crews Building. Methodist is also investing in new equipment and centralizing its clinical services, among other things.

A row of hardhats and shovels were arranged in a neat row at Methodist University Hospital in early October at a groundbreaking event. Addressing a gathering of dignitaries and local officials assembled under a tent, Dr. David Stern, executive dean for the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine, reflected on the moment. The project, he said, is meant to create “a world-class facility which I believe every patient needs to have access to.”

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, meanwhile, also had something of a banner year.

The hospital is in the midst of a multibillion-dollar campus and operational expansion that’s meant growing or adding everything from headcount to technology to infrastructure improvements. To that end, in recent days the city of Memphis and state of Tennessee announced they’re dedicating a combined $37 million in funding – $25 million from the city, $12 million from the state – to go toward infrastructure spending around St. Jude’s campus.

2016 also saw a whirl of personnel-related news. Saint Francis-Memphis got a new CEO, with Audrey Gregory replacing departed CEO David Archer. Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare added former Church Health president Antony Sheehan to its leadership team, and Baptist Women’s Health Center in Memphis hired Venecia Harris as the new mammography disparity coordinator for the hospital’s breast health program.

Speaking of breast cancer, Dr. Meiyun Fan, a UTHSC professor, won a $100,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute to study a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer known as Basal-Like Breast Cancer.

On the facilities front, UTHSC continued work toward the opening in 2017 of its $36.7 million educational facility – the Interprofessional Simulation and Patient Safety Center, which will bring students from all six UTHSC colleges to train together in simulation settings.

Regional One Health opened and continued to build out a 50,000-square-foot East Campus off Highway 385, and Baptist Memorial Health Care opened a 12-bed pediatric intensive care unit at the Spence and Becky Wilson Baptist Children’s Hospital.

Le Bonheur president and CEO Meri Armour told The Daily News that one of her institution’s key jobs in 2016 was finishing its current outpatient center on Dunlap Street.

In other news:

The aforementioned nonprofit Church Health was rebranded from its former name, Church Health Center. Faith-based, evangelical health service organization Resurrection Health merged with Knoxville-based Cherokee Health Systems, which has the largest network of community health centers in the state. And local leaders continued to work toward bringing some cohesion and strategic vision to the Memphis Medical Center, a district home to key institutions like Regional One, the Memphis Bioworks Foundation and Southern College of Optometry.

Other significant moments included BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee announcing its move to eliminate Affordable Care Act marketplace plan coverage in three major regions of the state, including Memphis. BCBS pointed to mounting losses it estimated would approach $500 million on such plans by the end of 2016.

Several facilities ramped up efforts on new programs and services aimed at fighting disease and saving lives. West Cancer Center began offering a new method for treating brain cancer, a portable device called the Optune. It’s an FDA-approved therapy that’s worn like a cap and is designed to send low-intensity electrical fields that are meant to disrupt the way cells divide.

Le Bonheur and UTHSC launched an effort called the Biorepository and Integrative Genomics Initiative. That project is a long-term research effort that involves the collection of patient DNA with an eye toward finding new treatments and personalizing medication regimens for future patients.

UTHSC also created a center to study addiction science and medicine and help with treatment, and West Cancer Center continued building up its Blood and Marrow Transplant Program.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 85 305 21,577
MORTGAGES 62 223 16,417
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 17 1,504
BUILDING PERMITS 0 571 42,491
BANKRUPTCIES 34 138 6,717
BUSINESS LICENSES 40 72 3,169
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0