Sen. Marsha Blackburn said Tuesday she was looking forward to getting answers from the beleaguered operator of two rural hospitals in northeast Tennessee.

And if Rennova Health Inc. misses her deadline to respond to questions, "then you will be hearing from us at that point," Blackburn told journalists during a conference call.

"We think it is vitally important that health care be accessible to individuals in these communities," she said. "We are very disappointed with what we have learned about how Rennova has gone about operating these facilities, and as I said earlier we're going to continue to work on this issue. We'll see what happens with their response later today."

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Marsha Blackburn elected first female U.S. Senator from TN
Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.)

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The Williamson County Republican set a Tuesday deadline for Rennova to respond to several questions she posed in a letter Jan. 28, including whether the Florida-based firm has enough money to keep going and what proof they can offer that they're able to run Big South Fork Medical Center in Oneida and Jellico Medical Center in Jellico, which it acquired in March 2019.

WBIR has been reporting for about a year on the operator's financial and operational problems. Rennova's Jamestown Medical Center in Jamestown closed last summer.

Earlier this month a former Big South Fork manager told 10News that staff worked 24-hour shifts, the hospital lab lacked supplies for critical tests and that it doubled billed patients. 

"These allegations do warrant further investigation, and that's exactly why I raised concerns in my letter to Rennova CEO Seamus Lagan," the senator said.

Last week, WBIR reported the hospital was telling ambulance drivers to take patients to other hospitals.

Seamus Lagan
Seamus Lagan: President, Chief Executive Officer, Interim Chief Financial Officer and Director

Blackburn said Tuesday that's all "troubling news."

"I really believe that East Tennesseans deserve some answers on this," she said. "The diversion of EMS patients from Big South Fork hospital is something that is troubling. People who need care the most are not receiving it.

"Reports out of the Oneida facility show how the health of employees and patients has been put at risk, with 24-hour shifts and a lack of basic lab supplies."

Rennova told WBIR in late January it had no comment about Blackburn's queries and Tuesday deadline.

"A copy of our response to the Senator will be made available once complete," it said in an email to 10News.

Blackburn said she was aware of news stories by WBIR and others about Rennova.

CMS has not received filings from Rennova

"Our communities deserve some answers on this, and Rennova needs to begin to provide these answers and basically needs to get their act together on working with our communities," Blackburn said. 

She said she also wanted to look at what's happened to federal monies Rennova has gotten for Medicare and Medicaid.

"I think between your local elected officials, individuals that are on those county commissions, individuals that are health are providers that are working in those hospitals, I don't think we're going to have a shortage of questions that will be asked during an investigation."