Wellmont: Start over the process of selling Unicoi Co. hospital - WFLA News Channel 8

MSHA calls Wellmont announcement about UCMH a "ploy"

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Wellmont Health System will not participate in a public meeting Thursday about the future of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital. Instead, Wellmont wants the process of selecting the new owner of the financially struggling hospital to start over from scratch.

After reviewing the Tennessee Attorney General's concerns about the process used by the hospital board to select Mountain States Health Alliance, Wellmont said today it believes both Wellmont's proposal and Mountain States' proposal are "null and void."

"According to our legal advice, the proper remedy for these violations is for the board to issue another request for proposals and follow a legal, broad and transparent process from this point forward," Wellmont President and CEO Denny DeNarvaez said in a press release. "Merely re-evaluating the two proposals in an open meeting such as the one scheduled later this week is not sufficient...We simply want what's in the best interests of the people of Unicoi County. And an open, honest process is clearly in their best interests."

Last month, the Tennessee Attorney General identified several concerns that stopped the sale of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital to Mountain States Health Alliance.

Among other things, the Tennessee Attorney General's Office said UCMH's board of control did not follow state open meetings laws.

"We continue to be humbled and appreciative of the tremendous support we've received from the residents of that community, and we will continue to work to ensure the process used to determine the sale of their hospital is transparent and fair," DeNarvaez said.

As we reported yesterday, a public meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 5 pm at Unicoi County High School to discuss the future of the Erwin hospital.

In the meantime, Mountain States continues to help with the operations of the hospital.

"The MSHA board of directors has approved a $1 million addition to the line of credit for Unicoi County Memorial Hospital," MSHA Senior Vice President Marvin Eichorn said yesterday. "When the original $2 million line of credit runs out, the hospital will be able to draw from these additional dollars to continue operations through the remainder of the transition process. It's important to note that these funds are a temporary fix for the hospital. The real improvements that the hospital needs in order to become financially viable can't be done until the hospital officially becomes part of Mountain States Health Alliance."

As for today's announcement by Wellmont, Mountain States calls it a ploy.

"Based on the feedback received from the Tennessee Attorney General and our own attorneys' legal analysis, we believe the UMCH Board of Control is following the appropriate legal procedures to assess the acquisition proposals in an open, public manner," MSHA President and CEO Dennis Vonderfecht said in a statement. "Nothing in the letter from the Attorney General suggests that the process followed by the UMCH Board of Control in soliciting proposals was flawed. The recent announcement by Wellmont is simply a ploy to disrupt a process in which it had the same opportunity to participate as MSHA. In light of the dire financial situation at UCMH, the attempts by Wellmont to delay the process reveal its disregard for the fate of UCMH. As we have been for many years, MSHA remains committed to serving the people of Unicoi County and to supporting the county's hometown hospital. Our offer to the people of Unicoi County still stands."

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