The future of the Claiborne County Hospital and Nursing Home continues to be up in the air, with the organization’s board of directors approving a Request For Proposal (RFP) to be sent out to those interested in potentially operating the facility.
The hospital board was instructed by the county commission to “look at all options” regarding the hospital in light of some financial difficulties the hospital has faced in the last few months. During recent meetings — the regular monthly meeting and another recessed from that one — the board was told the organization had a $112,000 loss during March, although there was about 5 percent more volume.
Administrator Tim Brown reported that salaries were down by $110,000 compared to the same time last year, and he attributed that to recent layoffs that have taken place within the facility.
Board member Bill Dunavant asked for the amount spent out of the cash reserves to date, to which Brown answered $1.1 million, which leaves $2.12 million in the balance.
Ken Conner, a CPA with the Chattanooga office of Decosimo Certified Public Accountants, is leading the organization through the process of preparing the RFP and disseminating it to interested parties. According to Conner, the RFPs would go out and interested parties would visit the facility to determine if they plan to go forward with a proposal to operate the facility under a lease or a sale.
After determining the parties’ interest, a winning organization would be chosen and that recommendation taken back to the county commission.
A sale or long-term lease of the hospital will not result in a windfall for the county budget, though.
“The proceeds from a sale or lease of the hospital cannot go to a county commission,” said county attorney Jim Estep, adding that any purpose for the funds must be approved by the state’s attorney general. “They have to go into something that will benefit the health of the community.”
Board member Rob Asbury commented that after the sale of a hospital in Campbell County, the funds were put into a public health benefit fund.
“You cannot put it into the county budget,” he said.
Two of the major concerns of the board and the medical staff are that the hospital remain a long-term facility and that it remain a full-service hospital.
“We will not agree to convert to a critical access hospital,” said one board member.
“The staff doesn’t want the hospital to ship patients elsewhere,” said Dr. Richard Clark, chief of the medical staff.
Hugh Singleton, a commissioner in the audience, said that the commissioners “don’t want to sell it. To sell it would make this [building] a nursing home and move the hospital across the river.”
Singleton added that the board should pursue a lease and make sure to keep the hospital in place.
Another point the board members brought up was that if an entity leases the hospital, it doesn’t have to use the current building. A lease can be restricted to a point, however, by the language of the contract, said Conner.
Singleton told the board members that “it seems like every time we turn around you all are needing money.”
An audience member countered that emphatically, stating, “Not in 54 years has the county court had to spend any money to run the hospital. The hospital is self-sufficient and has never used taxpayer money for anything.”
Conner was instructed to complete the RFPs and send them out after the board’s changes were made. The board is expected to examine the RFPs at the June board meeting.