BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — Blount County Commissioners are meeting to discuss the mayor’s desire for UT Medical Center to take over the operations of Blount Memorial Hospital.
Mayor Ed Mitchell released a statement about his plan on Wednesday. However, the CEO of Blount Memorial, Dr. Harold Naramore, says he was never given any notice about this potential agreement between the county and UT.
Naramore said he was surprised that neither UT Medical Center nor the mayor’s office reached out to him before sending out this letter. Now he’s trying to let his employees and the community know where he stands.
“I had a lot of upset folks emailing me and calling me. I’ve done the best I can to reassure them in the past 24 hours,” said Naramore.
Naramore has been the CEO of Blount Memorial since June 2022, but he’s been with the hospital since 2009. He earned his Bachelor’s in Biology and Chemistry from ETSU, then went to medical school and graduated in 1987. Naramore did his psychiatric residency and finished in 1991. In 2002, he went back to school and got an Executive MBA from the University of Tennessee focused on healthcare. From 2003-2006 Naramore went to law school at UT where he graduated with an MBA and a law degree.
He worked in both the medical and law fields in northeast Tennessee. In 2009, he started at Blount Memorial as Chief Medical Officer and House Legal Council. In June, he became the CEO.
He says during his time as CEO, Mitchell has expressed concerns about the hospital’s finances and operation status publicly but has refused to meet with Naramore one on one.
“I’ve tried to meet with the mayor on a number of cases from the time I became the CEO. There were emails to try to arrange times to meet, you may have seen my November 30 letter I wrote after a special called county commission meeting where I offered to sit down and meet with the mayor an hour a month and actually have him suggest the times that work best for him and none of that has happened,” said Naramore.
Naramore says the hospital has been working with a strategic planner to help improve operational efficiency, decrease expenses, and increase revenue and he’s made the commission aware. That’s why he says he was surprised by the mayor’s letter seeking approval of the board to negotiate an agreement that would allow UT Medical to manage and operate Blount Memorial.
“I became aware of it and met with the mayor, the county attorney, and the finance director on Monday and that was the first I had heard of it as far as why the hospital doesn’t know or didn’t know about it, I can’t speak to that,” said Blount County Commissioner Steve Mikels.
Mikels said this letter is just the beginning of a long process to come to a decision.
“I think there’s a lot of questions that need to be asked. You know there’s also a lot of misinformation out there. So I think to be transparent with the constituency and to know their desires to know what they want for the county hospital and what they want to see, I think there’s a large part in informing the public,’ said Mikels.
However, Naramore said they’re taking the right steps to move forward and stay under their current leadership.
“My message to the community is that Blount Memorial has been here for 75 years. We’re proud to serve this community, we love this community. We exist to take care of this community to provide health care. I plan for Blount Memorial to be here for 75 more years as an independent community hospital,” said Naramore.
Naramore said he would be at the county commission meeting to discuss some of the issues that the mayor discussed in his letter.
UT Medical sent WATE the following statement.
“At the request of the Blount County Mayor’s office, The University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC) has engaged in a discussion with Mayor Ed Mitchell on potential opportunities to assist Blount Memorial Hospital with its challenges while continuing to provide health care services to benefit the patients and communities the organization serves. Consistent with UTMC’s culture of transparency and collaboration, if given the opportunity, UTMC will work with the medical staff, team members, the community, and its leaders to help ensure Blount Memorial Hospital will continue to meet Blount County’s healthcare needs.”
WATE reached out to the mayor’s office Thursday for an interview. They declined and referred us back to the release sent yesterday.