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    Finishing touches: New sickle cell center to provide 'missing link' for follow-up care

    Toby Sells - The Commercial Appeal -

    Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare will formally open its $1 million Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center Wednesday and its backers are $2 million away from the original $5 million goal they said is needed for the overall project.

    The center saw its first patient in January and already has 30 total patients, according to center officials.

    On Tuesday, workers put the finishing touches on the facility located in the Methodist Medical Arts building at 1325 Eastmoreland on the Methodist University Hospital campus.

    The more than 7,000-square-foot facility has a nine-chair infusion center where patients can go if they are having a sickle cell attack and need fluids essential to hydrate the body, reshape sickled red blood cells and restore normal blood flow.

    But just through a door is what Mark Yancy, the center's manager of clinical and business operations, said is the "missing link" of sickle cell care.

    A preventive health clinic there has eight exam rooms and is where the center's patients must visit at least once before they have access to the acute-care side of the center for sickle cell attacks. Patients could also lose their access to the infusion center if they miss more than four preventive care appointments without a valid excuse, Yancy said.

    "This is what was missing in terms of once they left the emergency department there was no follow up, we didn't know what happened to them until we saw them again," Yancy said. "Now, the same place they come to get their preventive care is the same place they come to get their emergent care and vice versa."

    Yancy has sickle cell and his story was a central element to many stories and editorials written about the fundraising efforts for the center. But now as the director of the center, "you guys have written one of your last stories on me being the person you're going to talk about that way."

    Fundraising efforts for the center are not over though the campaign that began in 2010 has yielded more than $3 million. Construction of the facility cost $1 million and $2 million will fund the endowment for the Plough chair of hematology, an appointment made by the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and shared with Methodist, Yancy said. The additional $2 million to be raised will fund the center's programs and research, Yancy said.

    No business case for the center was made to the Methodist system board of directors, according to Yancy and Paula Jacobson, president of the Methodist Healthcare Foundation. So, no projections on revenues or profits for the center were available, according to Yancy and Jacobson.

    However, a detailed business plan — which included patient volumes, demographics and the insurance status of those with the disease in the Memphis area — for the center was developed, Yancy said. And Jacobson said the system's board has agreed to fund the annual operations of the center if Methodist CEO Gary Shorb and his team could raise the original funds.

    Noting that "we didn't factor profit into this at all," Yancy said the new sickle cell center will provide better patient care, which should reduce costly inpatient stays at the hospital.

    The center will initially employ three.