Scott Co. hospital deal falls through, jobs in balance

11:26 PM, May 15, 2012   |    comments
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A day after it seemed the Scott County hospital would be saved, the deal has fallen through.

According to Scott County Mayor Jeff Tibbals, county officials spent the morning trying to negotiate a final deal with HMA, the company that currently operates the 25-bed hospital. The county wanted to keep it open with HMA for up to 60 days, as commissioners find new owners for the hospital or get the money to buy it themselves.

However, according to Mayor Tibbals, the county could not agree to the $1.7 million deductible proposed by HMA without raising taxes.

"We were very uncomfortable with [the deductible] and [HMA] would never back off with that," said Scott County commissioner Willie Boyatt. "It left us in a position where they were playing hardball with us."

The hospital is set to close on May 24 at 11:59 pm.  All 213 employees were sent notices Tuesday, informing them that their jobs would be terminated at that time.

"It was sort of like a funeral in there," said hospital pharmacist Allison Sexton describing the mood in the clinics today. "It means an hour's drive for me to find a job, because there are no pharmacist jobs in Knoxville."

"I consider them family, and I hate it for them... my heart goes out to them," former hospital employee Tammy Selby said. With a heart condition, she wonders where she may have to get emergency care if the hospital closes.

"I'm scared," she added. "I'd have to go to either Kentucky or to Knoxville to an emergency room."

Tibbals said county leaders are still talking to other companies who could be potential buyers.  There is no buyer/lessee by May 24, then the hospital would close, but would be "short term.'  He said commissioners will find urgent care for the county.

Hospital CEO Jack Bryan said in a statement:

"We are saddened to learn that Scott County officials were unable to find a solution to keep Scott County Hospital open past May 24.

Health Management fully honored the two-year notice of lease termination previously agreed to between Scott County officials and Mercy Health Partners on May 24, 2010. In an effort to allow County officials additional time, we had also generously offered to work with the County to extend the lease agreement for an additional 60 days. That offer was declined today.

Since October 2011, when we assumed the remainder of the lease agreement for Scott County Hospital, we have actively cooperated with county leaders in their efforts to secure a prospective buyer in order for the hospital to continue operating under new leadership in the future. Unfortunately, despite initial interest from several prospective partners, none moved forward with a commitment.
For the last four years, I've had leadership of Scott County Hospital and have seen it through many improvements. The hospital is in better operational and financial condition than it was upon my arrival.

It is our intention, first and foremost, to assist each and every hospital Associate during this time of transition. Eligible Associates, who have or will receive notice from the hospital, and who remain with the hospital until closure on May 24, will receive pay and health benefits through July 15.

Over the next week, we will cease admissions and work with the County and physicians to safely transition the facility to closure and will transfer all patients to another appropriate hospital.

In our tenure in Oneida, we are proud to witness the care Scott County Hospital employees and physicians have provided for so many years. We know that tradition of care will continue through the hands of those individuals as they continue to care for patients in the future in this community or elsewhere. To have been a part of the hospital and the community has truly been an honor."

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Scott County Commission voted unanimously Monday to extend Health Management Associates' operation of the Scott County Hospital for up to 60 days.

HMA planned to close the county's only hospital by May 24, unless there was a new owner in place. Scott County Hospital employs 215 workers.

"It's better news than what we had when we came to work this morning," Scott County Hospital pharmacy director Steve Leeds said after Monday's decision. He was one of the dozens of hospital workers in attendance in the meeting.

"We've been down this road for two years now, and it's getting down to its boiling point in the last couple of weeks," Leeds added.

"This board wants to support the hospital -- wants the jobs, wants to know quality healthcare is still here," Scott County Mayor Jeff Tibbals said.

With this 60-day agreement, Mayor Tibbals said commission can find a new owner or explore ways to find $5 to $7 million to buy the property, through the county industrial board.

The mayor said raising taxes is still not an option.

"Gives us time to build and find an operator. Time to get required A.G. approval and get the continuation of the license to the new operator -- which would be the county," the mayor added.

However, the vote was not without some questions. Mayor Tibbals said some last minute changes to the deal were concerns, notably a $1.7 million deducible the county would have if they maintained the hospital for the 60-day period. That deductible would've covered unforeseen costs from the hospital, with HMA paying the rest.

"They would take responsibility of what they'll do.. and we'll take responsibility when we take over the operations from that point forward," Mayor Tibbals commented.

If either side does not come up with a feasible future for the hospital soon, the contract gives both HMA and the county the option to pull out of the deal sooner than July 23rd.

For hospital workers in attendance, their livelihoods will be decided in the next two months.

"It'll be a waiting game.. give us more time to pray and maybe our prayers will be answered this time," Leeds said.

Jack Bryan, CEO of community hospitals, was in Monday's attendance. He told 10News he was happy with the commission's decision and said they'll keep the hospital running smoothly for the next 60 days.

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