ERWIN, Tenn. - In the eyes of two local healthcare companies, a small 48-bed, financially struggling hospital in Unicoi County, Tennessee is prime real estate.
Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System are fighting to own Unicoi County Memorial Hospital. Both say the process of finding a new owner favors the other side.
"There's been a lot tied to Mountain States along the way," says Denny DeNarvaez, Wellmont CEO. "It's made it very political, difficult to have a fair shake to be part of that community."
"They were allowed a second time, as we were, but they had the benefit of seeing our proposal," says Dennis Vonderfecht, Mountain States CEO. "We didn't get to see theirs."
Both have submitted two proposals to the hospital's board.
Both companies say they will build a new building. Wellmont says they will keep the current site open along with a new location yet to be determined; Mountain States says they will rebuild in Erwin.
"Ours is only about the seeing the healthcare needs for the citizens of Unicoi County. What it should be about, not about locating a hospital as close to Johnson City as possible to take patients away from Mountain States Health Alliance," says Vonderfect.
Wellmont counters, saying they want to give patients a choice for healthcare in Unicoi County and Johnson City. "We expect to be a part of that market, but it's really a way to work with the physicians who need, who wanted an alternative for some time," says DeNarvaez.
Both companies say they will take over the existing hospital's massive debt and make financial contributions to the community.
Mountain State's Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System say they are waiting on the hospital's board of directors to set the decision date.
Both systems are also making their proposals public for the community to see and comment on to the board.