Fifty-four years after the city-owned and -operated Knoxville General Hospital opened in 1902, it was replaced by the University of Tennessee Memorial Research Center and Hospital. A number of forces converged to bring about the culmination of a nearly twelve-year effort to build a new hospital. Essential to the project’s success were the promise of radiation research after World War II, a drive in Knoxville’s medical community for a new hospital, fresh leadership in city government and on the Knox County Court bench, and a turnover in the university president’s office.
Opened a year after the hospital, the research center operated as a separate entity until government financial support for research shifted, then dried up, throughout the 1970s. Emphasis on research for the practical purposes of diagnosis and treatment and as a component of graduate medical education eventually brought about integration of the research center-hospital complex.
Medical centers nationwide experienced a financial windfall with the advent of Medicare and Medicaid, which enabled the amassing of huge capital reserves. The unfettered flow of funds from Washington freed the UT Memorial Hospital to develop costly but effective helicopter emergency transportation, organ transplant programs, a perinatal center, and specialized care units. By the 1990s the now designated University of Tennessee Medical Center at Knoxville faced serious financial cutbacks as the federal and state government altered their reimbursement policies.
The evolution of this medical center depicts the influence of politics, social change, and financial adjustment. At first a community hospital run by physicians, the center has steadily moved toward becoming a preeminent graduate medical education facility.
Jayne Crumpler DeFiore, Miracle in the Valley: The University of Tennessee Medical Center at Knoxville (1996)