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Parkwest shunned motel; hospital turns 30

Janet Heffern, RN, has been with Fort Sanders Parkwest Medical Center since its doors opened as Parkwest Hospital in 1973. She prefers colored scrubs to work in, her favorite addition to health care clothing.- Tracy K. Morgan/farragutpress
Located off Interstate 40 just west of the Cedar Bluff exit, Fort Sanders Parkwest Medical Center might have become a motel, if things hadn’t worked out.

Surgical technician Lynn Bolton is one of the hospital’s original employees. She said the hospital was actually built like a motel. “We’d always heard it rumored that it would be turned into a motel if it failed as a hospital,” Bolton said.

CAO Wayne Heatherly was also an original hospital employee. He admitted, “It is true there was an old wives’ tale that the hospital was built like a motel so that it could be converted into one if it failed as a hospital.”

However, Heatherly said there was never any doubt that the hospital would survive. “In fact, it was clear to those of us directly involved that it would thrive.”

This month marks the hospital’s 30th year of thriving.

On Dec. 10, 1973, a group of Knoxville physicians and officials of General Care Corporation opened Park West Hospital. It was a 225-bed facility staffed by 155 employees and 137 physicians.

In 1990 Fort Sanders Health System purchased the hospital and renamed it Fort Sanders Parkwest Medical Center, or Parkwest. In 1996 Fort Sanders consolidated with Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge to form Covenant Health. Parkwest is a member of Covenant Health.

Today’s modern, whitewashed architecture of Parkwest differs greatly from the memories that Bolton has of a “teeny little hospital with lots of pastures and trees.”

Heatherly added that the area around the 1973 hospital “looked like the Australian Outback.” He said the hospital was the only thing on Parkwest Boulevard, and “the fields across to the south of the Interstate from the hospital were wide open pasture land.”

Janet Heffern, a critical care nurse who is also a 30-year employee of the hospital, recalled a gravel parking lot “where I walked through two-by-fours to enter (the building).”

Even though conditions seemed primitive, Heffern recalled a plaque on one of the hospital’s walls which read: “It’s not the building that makes the hospital, it’s the people who work in it.”

She described the current staff’s relationships with one another as a ballet. “You know what the other one is thinking and you do your part to take good care of patients, and you save lives.”

Bolton said the surgical staff has a 10-second timeout just before surgery, where a patient’s name and procedure are confirmed, “just to make sure everyone is on the same track.”

Heffern added, “We can get all this technology, and it is so important, but unless you have friendly, caring people, it doesn’t mean a thing.”

In addition, Heffern said she looks upon her work as a ministry. “It’s an honor to be invited into the intimacy of a family. It’s our privilege to serve them.”

The hospital plans for its service to become even more patient friendly.

In 2002 Parkwest began a $94 million project of renovation, expansion, and modernization. The REM project includes 326,000 square feet of new construction in a six-story tower with 214 all new beds, bringing Parkwest’s total capacity to 307 patients.

In addition, there will be an all new emergency department.

Hospital spokesperson Melissa Copelan said Parkwest would remain fully operational during the REM project, slated for completion in early 2005.

She explained that the hospital has implemented “two must-haves” during reconstruction; complementary valet service, and a shuttle route that runs from the parking lot to the front entrance.

Even after the REM project’s completion, “the shuttle service is here to stay,” Copelan said, “because it’s been such an asset to our patients and visitors.”

Heffern and Bolton agree that patient care is the top priority at Parkwest, and one of the reasons they have stayed with the hospital for 30 years.

“I’m here thirty years later because of quality patient care,” Heffern said. “We work really hard at this hospital to maintain high standards.”

Retirement for Bolton was an option last year, but “I can’t think of any reason to leave,” she said, “and I don’t want to leave my friends. I look forward to coming to work.”

Heffern said a doctor once asked her how she has stayed in her career so long. “I told him, ‘I’m a wife, I’m a mother, and I’m a nurse. It’s just who I am.’”

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