Cumberland Medical Center is feeling the impact of a nearby hospital closure.

"We have seen a tremendous pickup in our emergency department," David Bunch, chief administrative officer for CMC, said during a recent town hall meeting.

Jamestown Regional Medical Center closed in mid-June, though the Fentress County Ambulance Service began diverting emergency traffic to Crossville and other area hospitals a few weeks earlier. 

"We've seen a sizable increase in the amount of ambulance traffic we're getting from Fentress and Morgan counties," Bunch said.

A portion of Morgan County closest to Jamestown had depended on that hospital.

The Fentress County Ambulance Service began diverting emergency traffic from the hospital in May as rumors swirled regarding the healthcare center's ability to stay open from day to day. 

Fentress County Executive Jimmy Johnson told the Chronicle the hospital told the ambulance service it wouldn’t accept emergency traffic.

Since that time, patients visiting their local physicians have been transported directly from the office to Cumberland Medical Center, Cookeville Regional Medical Center or Livingston Regional Hospital. 

Three weeks later, the hospital remains closed.

“It’s a mess right now,” Johnson said. “Nothing’s really changed.”

The Jamestown hospital is owned by Rennova Health, based in West Palm Beach, FL. The company also owns rural hospitals in Oneida and Jellico, TN. 

A Feb. 5 survey by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Tennessee Department of Health found $2.9 million in outstanding payments for supplies and services. 

On May 30, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced it would terminate its billing agreement with the hospital, meaning it would not reimburse the facility for services, effective June 12.

In mid-June, layoffs of the nearly 150-person staff began. Though hospital representatives said the layoffs would be temporary, the hospital remains closed. About 10 or 12 employees received permanent layoff notices, Johnson said. 

He said there are entities interested in leasing or purchasing the hospital, but so far efforts to start those conversations have failed.

“If you’ve got $4 million against you, why not just do it?” Johnson said.

Johnson questions how the company was able to purchase the hospital to begin with. The company purchased Jamestown Regional Medical System from Community Health Systems in June 2018 though Rennova had reported a $51 million net loss in 2017. Modern Health Care, a health care news agency, reported the company was being sued by landlords and contractors saying they had not been paid. At least three former employees had sued the company for unpaid wages. 

“Just because I walk in and want to buy a hospital — the commissioner of health should check it out,” Johnson said. 

Johnson has taken his concerns to Gov. Bill Lee, noting any changes would not help the Jamestown community but could save other communities similar fates. 

In the meantime, surrounding hospitals are working to serve those patients. 

"It's very concerning for this region," Bunch said. "That's a tremendous gap in health care for that community."

Bunch said he had driven the 34 miles from Crossville to Jamestown along Hwy. 127. While portions of the highway include multiple lanes of traffic, most of the journey is on a two-lane highway.

"I can't imagine having chest pain and having to drive all the way from Jamestown to Crossville for that," he said. 

Jamestown Regional is the 11th hospital in the state to close since 2012. According to a recent report in the Tennessean, at least 15 others are losing money annually and at risk of closure. 

At a recent town hall discussion, Bunch was asked what rural hospitals could do to stay open and continue serving their communities. He suggested partnering with strong regional health systems that provide access to more services and savings in purchasing.

But overall, health care facilities operate on razor-thin margins. He said the average nonprofit hospital sees a 1.2% profit. 

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.