Chattanooga: Erlanger Officials Explain Burn Unit Closure

By Emily Bregel, Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.

Jul. 9–In the wake of a backlash from firefighters and community members, Erlanger hospital officials held a news conference today to clarify last week’s closure of the hospital’s six-bed burn unit.

Officials sought to calm the fears of community members, emphasizing that the immediate care of burn patients in the area has not changed.

“We’re not getting out of the burn business,” said plastic surgeon Woody Kennedy, who will oversee the treatment of burn patients at the hospital.

Patients with severe burns — covering more than 20 percent of their bodies — will be transferred to regional burn centers but only after they have already been stabilized and treated at Erlanger, officials said.

The burn unit’s former medical director, Dr. Lesley Wong, left in February for family reasons.

Her departure prompted hospital physicians and officials to reevaluate the capacity of the burn center and to acknowledge the unlikelihood of recruiting a new medical director to oversee a relatively small unit, Erlanger CEO Jim Brexler said.

Mr. Brexler noted that the transfer of children with serious burn injuries to a major center in Cincinnati, Ohio, has always been hospital protocol.

“I would dare say if you talk to the families there, yes, that’s an inconvenience but they’d much rather be in a center where they’ve got all those resources and then coordinate their care back” to Erlanger, Mr. Brexler said.

Patients with burns on more than 20 percent of their bodies will be transferred to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Ga., or the Vanderbilt Regional Burn Center in Nashville, after being assessed and stabilized, hospital officials said.

For complete coverage, see tomorrow’s Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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