Fed up with their local hospital being shuttered, government officials in Jamestown, Tenn. say they're working with University of Tennessee Medical Center to potentially open a freestanding emergency department.
West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Rennova Health closed Jamestown Regional Medical Center more than a year ago—just a year after buying the hospital—after CMS revoked its Medicare billing privileges due to unpaid bills. Despite a strongly-worded inquiry from a U.S. Senator, Rennova doesn't appear poised to reopen the hospital any time soon. Now, locals are taking matters into their own hands.
"They're just crooks; it's obvious" Jimmy Johnson, county executive for Fentress County, where Jamestown is located, said of Rennova. "They're not going to help us do anything."
Johnson said Fentress County's Board of Commissioners recently signed a letter of intent with UT Medical Center to develop a plan for the freestanding ED. A UT Medical Center spokeswoman said no one was available Friday to comment.
County Commissioner Leon Stepp said the county is considering spending $25,000 on the project. He said UT Medical Center would contribute more than that and would oversee the hospital. The county would likely use a "first class" former doctor's office in Jamestown that wouldn't need much renovation, Stepp said.
"They say, 'Lock, stock and barrel,' well, we've got the barrel,'" he said.
The project's biggest hurdle likely will be the CMS' requirement that off-site hospital emergency departments be within 35 miles from the hospital's main campus to receive Medicare payments. In this case, the main campus would be UT Medical Center, which is more than 80 miles from Jamestown in Knoxville. To move forward, Johnson said the facility would need to be exempted from that rule.
Rennova CEO Seamus Lagan wrote in an email that there are currently no plans to reopen the Jamestown hospital, as the COVID-19 pandemic delayed a state inspection.
Rennova announced last month it had opened an office in Knoxville to oversee its provider operations. Aside from the Jamestown hospital, Rennova has two others in Tennessee that remain open, although they too have a history of unpaid bills.
Rennova, which transitioned to running rural hospitals after its lab testing business dried up, reported receiving $7.4 million in federal COVID-19 stimulus grants, some of which went to the shuttered Jamestown facility.
Ambulances currently have to take emergency patients in Jamestown 40 to 60 miles away to be stabilized, Stepp said.
"It's tripling the average length of their travel," he said. "That's a problem."