Scott County officials spent Wednesday afternoon attempting to save their soon-to-be abandoned hospital by meeting with a prospective operator. County mayor Jeff Tibbals would not reveal the identity of the company.
The unnamed medical group joins a long list of companies the county has interviewed about operating the hospital in downtown Oneida. Health Management Associates is currently set to shut down the facility late next week.
The prospect of losing the only hospital in the county has weighed heavily on government officials. It also has emergency responders preparing for the possibility of life without a hometown hospital.
"We've still got a few days and our hope is there is a light at the end of the tunnel that this hospital will remain open," said Jim Reed, director of the Scott County Ambulance Service.
The Scott County Ambulance Service sits directly behind the hospital in Oneida. The garage bays for ambulances are next to a helipad for emergency transport by air.
"The helipad behind the hospital and here with the ambulance service is where we land our air medical units, whether it be LifeStar or Air Evac," said Reed. "We have helipads around the county and several designated LZ's (landing zones) with GPS coordinates for emergency pilots to rendezvous with rescue workers."
Without a hospital, critical emergency calls in Scott County may require a higher frequency of air transports. Driving medical patients to emergency care will also result in longer drives.
"Patients who are in critical condition, it's going to be longer before we can get them to a higher level of care. We'll be transporting to other facilities in other counties like Fentress County, possibly Campbell County, and even down to Tennova North off Emory Road in Knoxville. It normally takes us about 30 minutes turnaround when we go on an emergency call. No matter where we go outside Scott County, we're looking at around two to 2.5 hours."
An increase in the number of transports and mileage per transport will increase overall revenue for the Scott County Ambulance Service. However, Reed said it also increases the expenses of the department.
"It's not something we feel like is good for the ambulance service with the hospital closing or that we will profit from it," said Reed.
The added expense of lengthier transports likely will not be noticed by those patients with adequate insurance. That is of little comfort for emergency responders like Reed who operate in a county with the highest unemployment rate in Tennessee.
Come what may with the hospital, Reed said the ambulance service will keep rolling.
"I don't want people thinking because the hospital is closed that there is no ambulance service. We're going to take care of people just like we always have and we will still be there and have coverage," said Reed. "Hopefully, it won't be an issue at all and this hospital will remain open."
Reed said he believes the ambulance service is already staffed at a level that can handle any increase in calls that consume more time and mileage. Reed also said he has already contacted other counties about providing assistance during a worst-case scenario.