By Richard Rourk

The Long Term Care unit at the former hospital building will soon be operated by Christian Care Center. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

The Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Health Board of Control held a meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at Erwin Town Hall to discuss the future of the former hospital building located at 100 Greenway Circle Erwin.

While the operations of the hospital have moved to the new Unicoi County Hospital, the UCMH Long Term Care is still housed at Greenway Circle. At the meeting last week, representatives of Ballad Health, which owns and operates the county hospital, addressed the board and announced that they support Christian Care Center, LLC taking over operations of the UCMH Long Term Care facility.

It did not take the board long to make a decision. A motion was made by UCMH Board of Control member Russell Brackins to agree to lease the property to Christian Care Center; the motion was seconded by UCMH Board of Control member Gene Wilson. The motion passed unanimously for the UCMH Board of Control to lease the property to Christian Care Center. If everything goes as planned, the transition will take effect at the beginning of the year.

“Closing date is set for Jan. 1 and it will be for a 10-year lease,” UCMH Board of Control Chairman Roland Bailey told The Erwin Record.

Ballad Health President of the Southeast Market Dwayne Taylor announced that they found the perfect partner to take over operations.

“We wanted someone that focused on quality above profit, someone that would love these patients the same way we do and we know we found that partner in Christian Care Center,” Taylor said.

Christian Care Center Vice President of Client Operations Sandy Deakins addressed the board to introduce what Christian Care Center’s intentions would be with the UCMH Long Term Care facility.

“Our goal isn’t to fix what works, but to take what works and expand upon that,” Deakins said to the board.

Deakins explained Christian Care Center’s philosophy.

“We are not looking at being the biggest, just the best,” Deakins said.

Christian Care Center expressed interest in the facility and the promise that comes with it.

“We want to do what’s best for the community, as far as the building there are some real good bones to work with there,” Deakins said of the facility.

The possibility of expanding the Long Term Care unit throughout the former hospital building is on the table, according to the discussion at the meeting. One of the goals for the large facility would be to provide the option for private rooms.

“We would love to take the side the hospital was in and create private rooms and expand rehab care,” Deakins exclaimed.

Comfort was a topic expressed by Deakins.

“It’s the patients’ home, we work in their home, they don’t live at our work,” Deakins explained.

The board did inquire about several topics.

“What is your normal ratio of registered nurses and certified nursing assistants?” Brackins inquired.

Deakins acknowledged that they like to have at least one RN on board at all times.

UCMH Board of Control member Marie Rice inquired about the status of current employees at Long Term Care.

“Our goal is to get started talking about benefits with the staff and preparing interviews,” Deakins said.

Deakins addressed concerns of staff turnover.

“If it works, we want to make it continue to work, we want them to be a part of our team, and if staff chooses not to stay, Ballad Health has great opportunities for the staff as well,” Deakins explained.

Rice then asked if Christian Care Center planned on retaining the employees and Deakins answered.

“That is our goal. I’m optimistic,” Deakins said in regards to retaining the staff.

Deakins spoke with The Erwin Record following the meeting about the expansion of the Long Term Care facility.

“It could result in more jobs,” Deakins said. “It will certainly make the facility more competitive with today’s market.”

UCMH Long Term Care will be the ninth facility for Christian Care Center.