The saga of Cookeville (Tenn.) General Hospital took another turn last week when the chief executive officer and board of the 157-bed city-owned hospital signed a letter of intent to consider a merger-like partnership with two other area not-for-profit hospitals.
The problem is, the five-member Cookeville City Council, which oversees the hospital, recently signed an agreement to lease Cookeville General to another system.
How the conflicting agreements are resolved won't occur until after Nov. 5, when voters in Cookeville, population 25,000, cast ballots on the city's lease agreement with Fort Sanders Health System, Knoxville, Tenn.
The signing of a separate agreement indicates that the executives and board of Cookeville General, who have opposed a sale or lease of the facility, are sure the referendum will go their way.
"There is no agreement with Fort Sanders. That's not going to happen," said Mike Mayes, Cookeville General's CEO. He said he's "absolutely confident" that voters will reject the Fort Sanders lease deal.
The hospital's preferred partners are 190-bed Cumberland Medical Center in Crossville, Tenn., and 148-bed Sumner Regional Medical Center in Gallatin, Tenn. Both Cumberland and Sumner are affiliated through a regional alliance with several tertiary-care hospitals in Nashville, including Baptist Hospital, St. Thomas Hospital and Vanderbilt University Hospital.
Under their tentative agreement, Cookeville General, Cumberland and Sumner would be linked through a new not-for-profit company that would coordinate their operations and service contracts.
Mayes said he and his board pursued the affiliation independently and didn't need the city's approval to sign a tentative agreement with the other hospitals.
The hospitals outlined their plans in a Sept. 18 press release, which failed to mention Cookeville's tentative lease agreement with Fort Sanders. Executives from Fort Sanders were unavailable for comment.