JELLICO, Tenn. (WATE) — The Jellico Medical Center is officially closed to patients after the last operational department was shut down Monday morning.
According to the CEO of Rennova Health, the provider formerly operating JMC, the ER closed as a repercussion to the Jellico Board of Alderman voting to terminate the provider’s contract with the city.
Repercussions of the decision made by the City of Jellico at last week’s public Board meeting mean it is no longer viable for Rennova Health, Inc. to consider the financial support or investment needed for Jellico hospital to continue to operate in any capacity on a daily basis.
Regrettably, management of Rennova Community Health, Inc. that oversees our hospital operations in TN, had no option but to cease operations at the facility yesterday morning and will comply with the City of Jellico’s Board request in an orderly manner.
I have no further information regarding any reopening at this time and do not know what plans the city of Jellico have for their building.Seamus Lagan, CEO of Rennova Health
According to Dwight Osborn, Jellico City Mayor, the city was not notified that the ER would be closing so soon.
“We gave them 30 days. According to our contract, once we vote to terminate the lease, it can take effect immediately and we gave them 30 days to conclude business, and that would give us time to seek some other folks to operate the hospital,” Osborn said.
Osborn said the hospital had been in decline ever since Rennova Health took over.
He said he stood behind the Board of Aldermen’s decision to terminate the contract, because he said JMC wasn’t operating and didn’t have adequate staff to operate, as an acute care hospital, which is what Rennova Health was contracted to provide.
“Acute care, if you take the definition from the Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services definition, that would be a hospital that offers surgery, full-time lab, full-time X-ray; they admit patients to the hospital and they treat those patients. They have doctors to make rounds and to see those patients in the hospital,” Osborn said.
He said JMC hadn’t been admitting patients since November. The ER was the only department operating since then.
“We’ve had a lot of people shipped out by helicopter…it was like three helicopters a day taking patients out,” Osborn said.
Ben Johnson, a chaplain, and central supply office worker has been working at JMC for 11 years, so he’s seen the hospital go through a few transitions.
Johnson said Rennova wasn’t all bad.
The company saved the hospital from closing two years prior, and in that time a lot of people were able to be saved.
“There’s a lot of people here that was born at this hospital. This hospital here was built back in 1970 and it’s been going on since then. You cannot say enough about these people who work at Jellico Medical,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the issues at JMC really started when employees weren’t getting paid.
He said that initially started back in November of 2019.
“A couple of times there, we didn’t get paid for a whole month,” Johnson said.
Johnson said when COVID-19 hit, it hit hard, but then it also seemed to straighten some of the payment issues out.
That was until this past November and December, late paychecks or missing paychecks became an issue again.
While COVID-19 was hitting the area the hardest since the pandemic started, Johnson said the hospital stopped admitting patients.
He said that was largely due to not having enough staff, and that was because they weren’t getting paid.
“Workers in the X-ray department, in the lab, and that’s where the problem started at also. Because of lack of pay. People were going elsewhere to work, and it wasn’t, I can tell you right now, it had nothing to do with high-paying jobs elsewhere. It was lack of pay,” Johnson said.
Johnson said eventually, lack of pay hit the ER as well.
He believes that was partially the reason why the ER closed so soon.
Johnson said Monday morning they had an employee meeting where they were told the ER was closing, and for the remainder of their time they would be packing up boxes.
He said what was happening broke his heart.
First, to see single mothers struggle because they weren’t getting paid; then to see the closest emergency department to the Jellico community shut down.
Johnson said the area needs a hospital; especially an ER.
Currently, without an ER, patients are being diverted to Corbin, Ky., LaFollette, or Knoxville. That means the closest ER is at least 30 minutes away.
“If it was a life and death situation, and I’m just being honest, if they don’t get that care here, then something would happen to them,” Johnson said.
There is hope, though.
Mayor Osborn said the city was in talks with two potential providers to take over the hospital.
Although current employees would have to go through another rehiring process, Johnson said it’s well worth it if it meant Jellico would continue to have a hospital.
“Jellico Hospital is a gem within the mountains. Because a lot of people, they come here and they can’t believe there’s a hospital within these mountains,” Johnson said.