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New freestanding emergency room in Fentress Co. may be model for rest of nation

Fentress County has been without a hospital since Rennova pulled the plug on its Jamestown Regional Medical Center in June 2019.

JAMESTOWN, Tenn. — A new freestanding emergency room planned for Fentress County will save lives and could be a model for rural healthcare across the country, the county executive and officials with the University of Tennessee Medical Center said. 

The county purchased a former diagnostic center near the center of Jamestown and signed an agreement with UTMC to open an emergency department and clinic at the location. 

The hospital had to receive special federal and state permission to open the facility because of its distance from the main hospital location, UT Medical Center Executive Vice President David Hall said. 

The typical requirement is for the satellite facility to be no more than 35 miles from the main hospital, he said. Jamestown is nearly double that distance. 

"We don’t know of any other [freestanding emergency department] that is active in the country meeting this criteria. I think it is the future of rural healthcare," Hall said. 

In rural communities, he said, it's not cost effective to run a whole hospital. A freestanding emergency room can provide critical care without losing too much money. Proving that it can work in Fentress County could allow other communities long distances from major hospitals to petition for similar care sites. 

"I think it’s going to be one of the great things I think for rural medicine," said Fentress County Executive Jimmy Johnson. "We couldn’t wait any longer, we had to do something." 

Johnson said the county purchased the building with funds from the American Rescue Plan coronavirus stimulus package. He said the new facility, scheduled to open in April 2022, will reduce transit time for patients and wear-and-tear on the county's ambulances. 

"We’re just blessed that it’s finally going to happen," Johnson said. 

The county's previous hospital, the Jamestown Regional Medical Center, closed in June 2019 when operator Rennova faced federal insurance penalties after reports it ran "dangerously low on supplies." 

RELATED: CEO of troubled East TN hospital chain warns of difficulty reopening Jamestown facility