Unicoi County

Unicoi Co. hospital board votes 5-2 in favor of Mountain States

ERWIN, Tenn. - The future of a Unicoi County hospital has been decided.

The Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Board of Control voted to accept a proposal from Mountain States Health Alliance to take over; beating out its competitor Wellmont Health System.

It was standing room only at Erwin Town Hall Wednesday afternoon. The room inside was filled with eager citizens ready to know what's next for their community hospital as well as thier healthcare.

The Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Board of Control voted five to two in favor of handing over operations to Mountain States Health Alliance, and the reaction was divided. Once the announcement was made, there was simultaneous cheering and booing.

Mountain States officials told News 5 they believe they already serve a majority of citizens in Unicoi County, so it's a good fit. That's why some citizens at the meeting were happy to welcome them to Erwin.

"That's where most people [go]. For years we've gone there anyway," said Unicoi County resident Larry Masters.

Mountain States officials said there are brighter days ahead for their healthcare.

"We want to make sure the community knows we're going to make them very proud of what they have here when this is all through. We have a very good track record of construction of new hospitals," said Dennis Vonderfecht, Mountain State's CEO.

But with opposing signs and stickers visible in the crowd, Wellmont officials told News 5 they're not convinced this is the choice people want.

"This is a long way from over, and this expectation was there all along, but we wanted to show our support as well as the community, and it's the community we're listening to. Wellmont will be in Unicoi County one way or the other," said Denny DeNarvaez, Wellmont's CEO.

Unicoi County resident Tina Jones felt a majority of citizens in the county wanted Wellmont to take over, "We should've had the say so. If it had have been, Wellmont would've definitely been in here," she told News 5.

Board member Jimmy Erwin said the decision making process has been a struggle, but now that the vote is tallied, it's time to move forward for the well-being of the county.

"I will support Mountain States 100 percent, because as a board we've got to continue on and ensure all of our employees of Unicoi [County Memorial] Hospital, and our [community] is served and given as much quality and patient care as anyone else," Erwin explained.

More facts on this decision:

Board member Russell Brackins said he felt Mountain States simply had a better proposal for the community.    

The next step in the process is drawing up a contract with Mountain States and detailing the fine print.    

A closing date is likely to happen in January or February.

The proposal states a new hospital will be built in Erwin, though the size of it, where it will be, and when it will be open will be decided through a planning process.

Wellmont's CEO told us her company will challenge this decision through the state's Attorney General's office, as well as through the Federal Trade Commission.

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