JAMESTOWN, Tenn. (WATE) – A rural East Tennessee hospital has lost critical federal dollars. Jamestown Regional Medical Center lost Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements because the government found they were not paying many of their vendors.

Since that announcement, the hospital has cut 20 employees and hired a new chief executive officer.

If you were to take a look around the parking lot or emergency room waiting area on Wednesday, you would have seen that they were both bare. New CEO Michael Alexander says he thinks some people think the hospital is closed. He wants to get the word out that they’re still very open and he hopes to keep it that way.

“I walked into a firestorm, I think. Trying to figure out where we are and what direction we need to go,” said Alexander.

Wednesday was his third day on the job and the first day the hospital is operating without the promise of Medicare and Medicaid funding.

“In most rural hospitals, Medicare/Medicaid can be 70, even 80 percent of the patients that you see. So it’s really important to a rural hospital,” Alexander said.

Alexander says he’s taking steps and hoping to implement the right changes to put Jamestown Regional back in good standing with the federal government. In the meantime, he says they are not turning away patients.

“Our commitment to the community is that we’re going to take that chance. We’re going to do everything we can to be here and to provide care to the people that need it with the hopes that we will be reinstated and we’ll be able to recoup those payments for what we’ve done,” he said.

He says he feels pressure in getting it right and keeping their doors open.

“We’re vital to a community, not just because we save lives, but because we’re an economic driver in our community,” said Alexander.

Alexander explained that when he took the job, neither he nor parent company Rennova knew the government was pulling those federal dollars.

“I enjoy a challenge, and this is sure going to test that,” Alexander said. “I enjoy going somewhere that needs help and trying to provide it. I’m not saying I’m the answer. I’m not saying I’m going to fix everything here. I’m just saying I’m going to pick up a shovel and start digging too.”

While the future of the hospital is unknown, he says he’s optimistic.

Alexander says he’s still trying to figure out how long the hospital can make it without those federal dollars, but he hopes they can weather this storm so more visitors can walk through those doors for years to come.

Rennova Health said in a recent statement they hope to correct these issues, return to their original staff numbers and eventually hire even more staff at the hospital.