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'Another nail in the coffin' | Jellico mourns loss of its hospital

The City Council voted to kick out hospital operator Rennova Health last week. They said it failed to operate according to the terms of its contract.

JELLICO, Tenn. — When the Jellico Community Hospital closed its doors this week, the people of Jellico said their town lost more than just emergency care; it lost a center of local life. 

The drive to the next nearest hospital is half an hour, up I-75 to Corbin, Kentucky or down the same road towards LaFollette. 

Outside the closed hospital, ambulances now drive past. Jellico's hurt, sick, and dying residents have nowhere close they can go.

"I wish they could've kept it open, I really do," said life-long Jellico native Charlotte Dople. 

When her husband had his second heart attack, she said he was stabilized by nurses in Jellico.  

"We could go down there and they could level you out to where you could be sent somewhere," she said. "But now you just take your luck if you make it to LaFollette or Corbin."

Rennova Health began vacating the facility Monday morning after the city council voted last week to kick the hospital provider out. The city attorney said it failed to operate the city-owned building according to the terms of its contract. It had not admitted a patient since late November.

The town mayor said he is in discussions with other providers to take over the hospital, but would not say which other company might re-open it. 

Grace Cross, a worker at clothing boutique downtown, said she worries about what will happen next time someone needs help. 

"If we do have accidents here or just people who need check-up quick, what are they supposed to do without the hospital?" she asked. "I think it means a lot to us to have it." 

If it doesn't re-open, there's a possibility customers at the boutique and her neighbors may move somewhere else. 

"I think it hurts our community more than people realize it does," she said. 

"It's, simply put, a shame," said local weekend radio host Darrell Ray. 

"I was born in that hospital. Most of my friends' family were born in that hospital," he said. 

Now that it's closed, neighbors fear it marks the end of life for this city. 

"It's a dying town. It is," Jesse Bolton, who has lived in the holler opposite the hospital for four decades, said. 

"It's pretty much another nail in the coffin. There's probably about two more nails to go and this town will be gone," he said.