Local supporters of Wellmont Health System rallied to gain information to include in opposition letters to the state's Attorney General on Thursday at the Unicoi County Intermediate School.
The public forum was hosted by local Wellmont supporters Jim Buchanan and Bill Gaines in response to the UCMH Board of Control voting 5-2 to approve the Mountain States Health Alliance proposal.
A second round of proposals were submitted by both health systems in October after the board requested proposals as a result of the hospital's debt increase over the years.
Gaines said during the rally that TCA 48-68-206 requires Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper to investigate all aspects of the transaction and its effect on the public.
The Attorney General does not approve the transaction, but the office can chose to object to the transaction, according to Sharon Curtis-Flair, the Attorney General media contact.
Gaines highlighted eleven facets the state agency must evaluate during their review of the transaction.
Some items to be considered are whether terms of the transaction and the hospital's market value are reasonable as well as whether the UCMH Board of Control performed due diligence in the decision to sell, in negotiations and in the selection of a buyer.
Gaines also addressed the Attorney General's obligation to research the effect on the availability and accessibility of health care services in the community.
A few terms in the Attorney General's review of the hospital sale's impact on the community's health care include access to affordable care, serving public interest regarding essential services needed for patient treatment and any foreseeable adverse effects.
“They want to know, the Attorney General, does this serve the needs of this county?” Buchanan said. “We feel that it does not.”
Gaines urged supporters to include several points in their letters. The points he and fellow supporters made at the rally were based on exclusions of Cigna Insurance and Tri-State Cardiology by MSHA, concerns of a regional MSHA monopoly, the need for a full-service hospital, retaining all 48 beds licensed at the current facility and the UCMH Board's handling of the acquisition.
“This cloak of extreme secrecy and exclusion of the public gives rise to the suspicion that something was going on that was not right,” Gaines said.
During the comments and questions portion of the rally, individuals voiced their concerns and made suggestions about what to include in letters to the state also.
Town of Unicoi Alderman Dwight Bennett was concerned about how the UCMH Board of Control handled the situation of selling the hospital. Bennett said the board failed to reach out to the community and should have held a meeting in each district to understand what the community wants.
“When you're appointed to a board you're supposed to do what's best for the citizens,” Bennett said. “You're not supposed to have a personal feeling.”
Many individuals also shared their personal experiences with MSHA and Wellmont.
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch was in attendance and suggested that individuals contact friends and family outside the county to send letters as well.
“What Unicoi County people are asking for is just a choice and a little bit of competition,” Wellmont supporter Charles Hensley said during the comment portion of the rally. “I think you'll find people who are not only from Unicoi County who want a Wellmont hospital, but you've got people from Carter County, Greene County and areas of North Carolina. This is important for our economy.”
Gaines said sending letters to the Attorney General will be the last chance to obtain a Wellmont facility, which he believes the majority of Unicoi County residents want.
“Now, the only course of action left to us is to write those letters to the Attorney General and pray that he hears the majority of our county, and does not give in to the pressure of the powers that be,” Gaines said. “This matter is not settled until the Attorney General says it is, so don't lose heart. Our board may have let us down badly, but I believe we will prevail in the end and have a new hospital we can be proud of.”
By Kayla Carter