MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The mayor of Blount County plans to ask another hospital system to run Blount Memorial Hospital, a move the CEO says was a surprise.

The Blount County Mayor’s office released on Feb. 15 that Mayor Ed Mitchell is taking steps to instate a management agreement with the University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC) over Blount Memorial Hospital. However, the CEO of the hospital says it was a surprise as neither the mayor nor UT Medical Center reached out to talk about the plan.

The discourse over the potential negotiations of a management agreement with UTMC is not the first conflict between the hospital and the local government. In the last year, the Maryville, Alcoa, and Blount County Mayors raised concerns about the appointment of Blount Memorial’s CEO Dr. Harold Naramore. The hospital also filed a lawsuit to be independent of the political control of the county mayor and county commission.

The Mayor’s Office shared that Mitchell is planning to seek approval from the Blount County Board of Commissioners to negotiate the agreement that would allow UTMC to manage and operate Blount Memorial. According to the release, the Mayor’s negotiations would be to better serve county citizens while preserving county ownership and local board oversight of the hospital.

“In recent weeks, I have worked with and made recommendations to the Blount County Board of Commissioners to improve and/or replace Blount Memorial Hospital’s Board of Directors to gain fresh perspectives. Those efforts have been thwarted by the Board and Hospital management.” Mitchell said. “It is very important to me that our employees and medical staff of the hospital understand any concerns we’ve expressed are not directed towards them. It has become obvious to me that the management of Blount Memorial Hospital, along with the Board restructuring, needs to be addressed as quickly as possible.”

The mayor stressed in the release that Blount Memorial Hospital would remain Blount Memorial Hospital. Mitchell also said that he has been exploring possibilities to:

  • Improve the financial stability of the hospital.
  • Ensure continued access to quality healthcare for our citizens.
  • Restore the confidence of our citizens
  • Restore a workplace where medical staff and employees are proud to work
  • Make use of the unutilized services and patient space in our hospital
  • Preserve County ownership and local board oversight.

In an email shared with WATE, Naramore told employees and medical staff that he was “surprised, saddened, and angered” to learn that Mitchell had apparently reached out to UTMC to begin the discussions of arranging a management agreement of “OUR Hospital system, Blount Memorial Hospital, Inc.”

He said that neither the Mayor or UTMC reached out to any executive or board member about the potential management agreement. The hospital found out about the potential for a management agreement with UTMC from the news Wednesday afternoon, Naramore said.

“Further, I was more disappointed to read Mayor Mitchell’s full press release and his characterization of OUR Hospital system. Frankly, all of you deserve to be treated with a great deal of respect for your integrity and the work you do. It appears that 75 years of honorable service to this community, including three years of leading our community through a global pandemic, means nothing to Mayor Mitchell.” Naramore said.

According to Naramore, Blount Memorial is working on a strategic plan to address lingering financial and operational challenges, and while the hospital still has more work to do, the county would be more helpful if it was supporting the process, that the county called for, rather than “blocking it every step of the way.” He also added that the county’s interference has been a direct challenge to what the process is trying to accomplish.

“While it would be improper for me to elaborate or comment on the reasons why, we do not believe that the County has the authority to contract with the University of Tennessee Medical Center for a management agreement for Blount Memorial Hospital, Inc. It is interesting, though, that Mayor Mitchell has reached out to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, which suffered significant losses of its own.”

Dr. Harold Naramore, CEO Blount Memorial Hospital.

Read the full release from the Blount County Mayor’s Office below.

The Mayor said that every detail of any management agreement will be placed in writing for consideration by the Board of Commissioners and for the review of citizens. According to Mitchell, the reputation and survival of Blount Memorial depends on the decisions made in the next few weeks.