BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. — The Mayor of Blount County, Ed Mitchell, sent a letter to the Blount Memorial Hospital on Monday. In it, he said that he has "grave concerns" about how the hospital is operated. He also said he believes the current direction of its operations would need to change to protect the community.
"The hospital and all of its assets belong to the county. BMH was appointed many years ago to operate the hospital on behalf of the county, but BMH never became the owner of any of the hospital's assets," he said in the letter. "As the county's agent, BMH must follow the county's direction and put the county's best interests as its primary goal."
Mitchell also said he was concerned about the sale of a healthcare facility operated by the hospital in the Springbrook neighborhood. He claimed that the facility was bought with county revenues, and its sale is a major decision. He also claimed that the sale is evidence that the hospital's financial position is declining.
So, he asked the hospital to take two steps. First, he asked them to hire a qualified, nationally-recognized consulting firm to help the hospital develop a long-term financial plan. He asked the hospital to reach out to mayoral staff to help them develop a request for qualifications by December 15.
Second, he asked the board of directors quickly restructure, saying he thinks a restructuring would help the hospital better serve the county. As part of this restructuring, he asked the hospital to eliminate its nominating process. To eliminate the process, he said he would introduce a resolution to the Blount County Commission on November 29.
In the letter, he also asked three board members to immediately resign — Ms. Redwine, Mr. Mayes and Mr. Powell. He asked the three to contact him to discuss the situation.
"Over the years, BMH has provided great service to our county in managing one of the county's prized assets. Unfortunately, BMH's board of directors, as well as the hospital administration, appear to have lost sight of BMH's role as the operator, not the owner, of the hospital, and we must immediately move forward in correcting this misconception," said the letter.
The CEO of Blount Memorial Hospital, Harold Naramore, responded to the letter on Tuesday. He said that the examples he provided of the hospital and county's relationship, as it pertains to ownership and oversight, are not valid.
"It’s no secret that our finances have been strained, and I’ve been open and honest about that, making reference to the challenges we’re facing and the changes we’re implementing, just about every week since I’ve been CEO," Naramore said in his letter. "Health care finances across the country are strained with post-COVID care delivery, inflated supply costs, a strained labor market and a diminished volume of inpatient care, among many things"
He later said he tried to meet with Mayor Mitchell four times since June. However, he said the mayor did not accept any request to meet due to his schedule.
During that time, he said the executive team spoke with local elected officials about the hospital's state and its strategic goals.
"There are numerous misrepresentations and factual errors in the mayor's words and perceptions, which show that he lacks knowledge, information and/or awareness of hospital operations and health care finance," Naramore's letter said.
He later said he wanted to be as transparent as possible with the community, and share whatever the hospital is involved in as early as possible. He said his letter is a part of that promise.
"I want you to know some of the continued battles we face outside of the tough-enough healthcare landscape we and every other hospital in the country face every day," the letter said. "Those care delivery battles are ones that we fight because that’s our mission; these political battles are ones that we shouldn’t have to devote time to fighting."