State officials have responded to a Fentress County petition requesting assistance in establishing a freestanding emergency room.
Tennessee Commissioner of Health Dr. Lisa Piercey stated in a letter that the county’s proposal isn’t possible without an affiliation with a local hospital.
County Executive Jimmy Johnson said that answer won’t keep the county from seeking solutions to deal with the closure of Jamestown Regional Medical Center (JRMC).
“You know, we’d sit down and talk with anyone to see what their thoughts are,” Johnson said. “We’re in desperate need because we are a minimum of 35 minutes away from the Crossville hospital and a minimum of 45 minutes from the Cookeville hospital. It’s a tough situation, and it’s a wear and tear on our ambulance service and the people of Fentress County.”
Johnson delivered the petition to the State Department of Health last month. He received a letter from Piercey this week that said the federal government only provides Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement to freestanding emergency departments that are financially and clinically integrated with an affiliated hospital within 35 miles of the facility.
“In reviewing the petition, it is clear that Fentress County residents are desperately seeking a solution to the issues resulting from the (hospital) closure,” Peirecey said. “The proposal for a freestanding emergency department, without an affiliation with a local hospital, is not a legal option, as such a category does not exist under state law.
Only three hospitals fall within 35 miles of JRMC. They include Cumberland Medical Center, Livingston Regional Medical Center, and Big South Fork Medical Center in Oneida. Big South Fork is owned and operated by Rennova Health System, the same company that runs JRMC.
“All it takes is for Rennova’s board or owner to say, ‘We can’t operate it. Let’s sell it to someone that can.’ That’s all it comes down to,” Johnson said. “One group of people holding the keys to the door that say, ‘Let’s help the people of Fentress County.’ But they won’t do it.”
JRMC closed in June after the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) terminated its programs at the hospital. The hospital had experienced a number of financial problems leading up to its closure.