The Claiborne County Hospital Board learned about options for the hospital while they met for the regular monthly meeting last Tuesday.
The board has essentially been paralyzed by the inaction of the Claiborne County Commission in regard to a $3.5 million loan the hospital needs to obtain in order to purchase a computer system to meet the federal government’s Electronic Medical Records (EMR) requirement by the deadline. According to a new debt policy required by the state’s Comptroller of the Treasury, the hospital board must get the commission’s approval before financing any amount.
During the commission’s January meeting, commissioners, led by Danny Longworth, decided to reject the board’s request to put the item on the agenda. A commissioner must sponsor all agenda items, and items added after the deadline must be approved by the commission.
The hospital board then requested the commissioners join them for an educational session about the system, where hospital administrator Tim Brown talked to the 16 commissioners present about the importance of obtaining the system and meeting the deadline.
At the most recent hospital board meeting, board members learned the item was still not sponsored; therefore, it still was not on the commission’s agenda for Monday night’s monthly meeting.
“No one would sponsor it,” said County Mayor Jack Daniels. “That’s simply it. No one would sponsor it.”
In preparation for the possibility of a partnership or lease with a larger health care organization, Ken Conner of Decosimo, a group in Chattanooga that specializes in assisting hospitals in the transition process, told the board what to expect.
“The board is responsible for leading and responsible for the process,” he said. “Have an open mind.”
Board members asked several questions, including how employees would be transitioned and if indigent care would continue. Conner replied that all of those things could be taken care of during the contract process. Because of the amount of work involved, he added it would take approximately 150-180 days to complete the entire process.
“As a practical matter, there’s probably two to four players serious about this facility,” he said.
One organization interested in the facility is Covenant Health. A letter appearing to be from Covenant’s President and CEO, Anthony Spezia, was handed out surreptitiously during the commission and board joint session — unbeknownst to several hospital board members. The letter states, “We hope you will allow us the chance to discuss the options and benefits we could bring to your community.”
The Claiborne Progress verified with Spezia’s office after the meeting that the letter was legitimate.
“Who solicited this letter? We didn’t ask for it,” said board member Rob Asbury.
Board member Bill Dunavant asked how long the board should wait before taking some kind of action.
“I’m interested in getting a process going to solve the financial problems,” he said. “It would make sense to me to go ahead and get something going.
“I am not going to ever vote to lease or sell the hospital until I get a directive from the county court,” Asbury said. Five board members agreed with him, while Dunavant did not.
The original resolution created the hospital board to operate and act on their own behalf, according to county attorney James Estep III. However, the commission has to approve the sale or partnership of the hospital.
“We can’t move forward on the computer system — we’re in limbo,” said Dunavant. “I feel like it’s indecision.”
“This leaves us irrelevant,” said Lindsey Cadle.
According to Asbury, the letter should not have been disseminated during the session because it was not given to everyone and the hospital board was not told about it.
“Well, the court has all the power,” said Daniels.
The County Commission added a resolution sponsored by Danny Longworth to the agenda Monday night and voted to allow hospital officials time to look at every option it has and report back to the commissioners during the next meeting, scheduled for March 18. The next hospital board meeting is scheduled for March 19 at 6 p.m. in the conference room of the hospital.