Vanderbilt gets OK for new $144 million Tennessee hospital, despite opposition

December 21, 2021
by Thomas Dworetzky, Contributing Reporter
Despite complaints by some local organizations, Vanderbilt University Medical Center has won approval by state authorities to construct the $144 million Vanderbilt Rutherford Hospital, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

The certificate of need (CON) passed by a vote of 5 to 1 at a December 15 Health Services and Development Agency board meeting, despite opposition by a number of local hospitals and providers.

Opposition to the construction was based on the view that more beds were not needed in the area, according to Nashville NPR affiliate, WPLN News.

Those against the new Vanderbilt facility included Advanced Health/Premier Radiology, St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital, St. Thomas Stones River Hospital, Tennessee Oncology Associates, The Surgical Clinic, TriStar StoneCrest Medical Center, Unity Medical Center, United Surgical Partners International, Williamson Medical Center, Ascension St. Thomas Rutherford, Ascension St. Thomas, Middle TN Emergency Physicians, Pediatrix Neonatology, Ascension St. Thomas Heart Lebanon, Ascension St. Thomas Heart Rutherford, and Blue Cross Blue Shield, according to the meeting's December 15 agenda.

A 2020 effort by Vanderbilt to gain approval failed, but the state legislature recently changed the CON laws, so that a community's need for more beds is no longer the only major criteria for approval. Regulators must now also consider if added competition would better serve consumers, WPLN reported.

Of particular note, according to the National Law Review, was a change to the Tennessee’s CON that states that, “the effects attributed to competition or duplication [must] be positive for the consumers.”

Vanderbilt made that case in its most recent presentation to regulators, when it refiled its earlier application — and after efforts to build the hospital for years, noted the news organization. “We have heard from numerous people in Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, including state and local government officials, community and business leaders, fellow health care professionals, and most importantly, many of our patients, who are vocal supporters of these plans and continue to encourage us to move forward with this proposal,” Dr. C. Wright Pinson, deputy chief executive officer and chief health system officer for Vanderbilt University Medical Center, noted in the Center's September 15 announcement of the refiling.

In making its case, the center noted that Vanderbilt has treated over 52,000 Rutherford County residents in the last year, up 20% from 2018. The 2020 census shows that the county's population is up 30% in the last decade — with a drop to “53% fewer staffed hospital beds per resident than the average of Tennessee’s other large counties,” according to the announcement.

“Our commitment is to make VUMC’s services more convenient for our patients while also meeting the future needs of the county’s remarkable growth,” said Pinson.

Dr. Kenneth Patric, who made the motion to approve before the regulators, stressed the fact that while more beds may not necessarily be required at present, many patients in the area already go to Vanderbilt in Nashville for care instead of heading to local facilities like Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford and TriStar Stonecrest. “Particularly in the pediatric population and some of the other specialized areas like cardiac, there is indeed the need, and we should allow consumers to make that choice once this is established."

Vanderbilt is known as a go-to hospital when cutting-edge medicine is called for in the region. In September 2020, VUMC performed what it said was the first-ever dual heart-lung transplant for a COVID-19 patient. “The patient wasn’t infectious, so no special equipment was used during the surgery,” Dr Ashish Shah, professor and chair of cardiac surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told HCB News. He added that the devastation from the virus to the patient's lungs and heart necessitated the operation.

A dual heart-lung procedure was first done at VUMC in 2006. It is rare and typically done only at major transplant centers. “I think the procedure will remain rare, but it’s worrisome that there may be long-term effects of COVID-19 even past the initial infection,” said Shah.

The new 42-bed, Rutherford hospital is slated to be built at Veterans Parkway and State Route 840.