The residents of Cookeville, Tenn., threw up a major roadblock to the sale of the city's hospital by approving a change in the city's charter that would require public approval of any sale.
Regardless, the city is moving ahead with plans to sell the 157-bed hospital.
Cookeville General Hospital is being pursued by several firms, including Nashville, Tenn.-based Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.; Health Management Associates of Naples, Fla.; Community Health Systems of Brentwood, Tenn.; and Baptist Hospital of Nashville.
Cookeville General is a profitable hospital strategically located midway between Nashville and Knoxville along Interstate 40, which connects Middle Tennessee with the eastern half of the state. In 1994, the hospital earned $2.1 million on about $37 million in total net revenues, according to state health department figures.
Cookeville City Manager Jim Shipley said the city will open several sealed bids to acquire the hospital March 28.
"After that, there'll be some negotiations with the serious bidders," Shipley said. "It's quite possible we'll have an election this August. We can't sell the hospital without a vote."
Shipley also said the city is considering several options, including leasing Cookeville General to an outside corporation or having another company manage it under contract, he said.
The possible sale of the hospital has generated controversy after the City Council's decision to put it on the auction block last December. A public protest followed, and opponents of a sale successfully lobbied the state Legislature and Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist to approve special legislation to address the matter.
The legislation required Cookeville to hold a referendum March 12 to decide whether to amend the city's charter to require a public vote on selling the hospital.
Cookeville residents voted 2,129 to 778-almost 3 to 1-in favor of amending the city charter. Consequently, any sale must be approved by the voters.
But the amendment does permit Cookeville to sidestep a vote and sell the hospital if the hospital is facing a financial crisis or the city considers the hospital's buildings and property as surpluses to be disposed of. In either case, a majority of the hospital's board and a unanimous vote of the City Council is required before a sale.