TN Health Agencies Offer Public Health Spending Proposals For Upcoming Fed Relief

Photo: State Capitol Building, Nashville, TN – Photo Credit: Adam Jones / CC

The Center Square [By Jon Styf] –

Tennessee agencies made their pitches last week for public health capital projects that would qualify for funding from federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) relief.

Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

The state’s Financial Stimulus Accountability Group met with public health leaders over two days to hear their proposals on how to spend the second half of $3.7 billion in ARPA money coming to Tennessee.

The second half of funding, between the Tennessee Resiliency Plan and the State Fiscal Recovery Fund (SFRF), will involve spending $1.875 billion on projects that fit the framework for funding.

The SFRF funds must be spent before Dec. 31, 2024, unless it involves an infrastructure project; then funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

The largest project proposals during the second day of presentations Wednesday came from the Tennessee Department of Health, which had many of its facilities surpass maximum capacity for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The department proposed replacing the public health lab in Nashville for $200 million.

The Nashville facility is in charge of statewide newborn screening and programs for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation. Eric Harkness, the director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives with the Department of Health, said the requirements for federal and state programs continue to increase above the facility’s capacity.

“The facility itself is outside of its operational lifespan,” Harkness said. “These programs continue to require more and more space.”

Harkness said testing requirements have changed significantly, not just with COVID-19 but with requirements for testing at birth; 90,000 children have to be tested at birth each year in Tennessee.

Another set of requests involved county health facilities. Harkness said county government provides and maintains the facilities, and the state provides staffing for operations. With age, however, the facilities have become an issue that can be too burdensome for the counties.

The department proposed an East Tennessee health office and lab replacement facility that would cost $85 million, an amount Harkness said was negotiable. It would replace the current University Medical Center in Knoxville that serves a 15-county area and house the lab component currently in Nashville.

The department also proposed: $77 million to replace 17 county health facilities, $31 million to upgrade statewide facilities, $11 million for county facility renovations and $31 million for regional health office construction, signs, phone systems and more.

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Other public health spending proposals included:

Department of Military: TEMA proposed building a 146,000-square-foot warehouse ($45.8 million) to hold emergency supplies, along with regional warehouses (east region, $12.8 million; west region, $10.9 million; and southeast region, $10.4 million) in order to speed up the distribution of necessary emergency supplies during disasters or a pandemic. A new Department of Military controlled-humidity warehouse ($31.2 million) would house supplies that need to be climate-controlled setting.

Department of Correction: Proposed building an on-site health clinic ($4.5 million) at the Turney Center Industrial Complex to accommodate prisoners’ health needs instead of sending them to a hospital via ambulance. The original health clinic, built in the 1970s, has limited capacity, the department said.

Department of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities: Proposed building new regional facilities in Greeneville, Nashville and Arlington ($180.6 million) to care for and treat adults and children with disabilities.

Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services: Proposed rebuilding the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute ($276.5 million). The department also asked for $26.5 million to enhance substance use treatment and additional beds at public treatment centers, which have been above capacity. The department also proposed spending $20.9 million to support two phases of upgrades the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute, including mechanical equipment upgrades as well as air handling, heaters and electrical upgrades.

Department of Children’s Services: Proposed spending $195.2 million to increase capacity and build a new facility at the New John S. Wilder Youth Development Center, which houses some of the juvenile justice system’s toughest 16- to 18-year-old offenders, several of which are street gang members.

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About the Author: Jon Styf, The Center Square Staff Reporter – Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies. Follow Jon on Twitter @JonStyf.

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