Chattanooga Burn Unit Closure Will Send More Patients To Nashville - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Chattanooga Burn Unit Closure Will Send More Patients To Nashville

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Vanderbilt University Medical Center has one of the best and busiest burn centers in the nation and it's about to get even busier.

A Chattanooga hospital will close its center this month, which will send more patients to Nashville.

At 29 rooms, Vanderbilt can handle the rush, but no one knows for how much longer.

"It's the sound of the first domino falling," said Dr. Jeffrey Guy.

That's how he described the closing of the burn unit at Chattanooga's Erlanger Hospital. The five-bed facility has been around for 31 years.

Most of that area's burn patients will now come to Vanderbilt.

"What centers that coexist will easily be able to absorb that and there's no at harm risk to the public," said Guy, the Vanderbilt Burn Center director.

But he feels Erlanger's demise is just another example of how smaller hospitals can't afford to staff lifesaving burn care centers.

"If you're not getting the critical mass number of patients than there's no way you can spread that cost or that loss out," he said.

One out of four patients that go to Vanderbilt does not have insurance. The private hospital has to pick up the tab and Guy doesn't know how much longer Vanderbilt can do that.

"You may be back here next year talking about this burn unit closing because we're not addressing the underlying, fundamental problems of how much this care cost and how little of it is compensated," he said.

And those costs are staggering. They can run more than $10,000 a day. The bill for a patient in the burn intensive care unit can exceed $300,000.

Vanderbilt admits about 600 burn patients a year and expects Erlanger's closing will add another 100 patients.

Vanderbilt's burn center takes in people from nine level one trauma centers in five other states. 

The Regional Medical Center in Memphis will house Tennessee's only other burn center. The public hospital has seven beds in its unit and is dealing with serious budget issues.

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