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No hospital -- county ends negotiations with Erlanger
Karen House
Oct. 15, 2018, 9:43 p.m.

Keith Cartwright addresses the Sequatchie County Commission to announce the end of negotiations with Erlanger for construction of a hospital in Dunlap.  Erlanger representatives Stephanie Boynton and Joe Winick listen, seated behind Cartwright.

Oct. 15, 2018 – Sequatchie County has been negotiating with Erlanger Health Systems for the better part of two years on a plan to build a regional hospital in Dunlap, but that plan is no more.

County Executive and Board Chairman Keith Cartwright read a prepared statement at the quarterly meeting of the Sequatchie County Commission Monday evening, Oct. 15.

As promised during our meeting in September, we did receive from Erlanger a final written proposal in an effort to reach consensus and move forward with this project,” Cartwright said. “Unfortunately, based on the financial parameters under which Erlanger Health Systems are required to do business, and the commitment of Sequatchie County Commissioners to their taxpayers, friends, and residents, the numbers and financial risk of building and owning a 32 million-dollar critical access hospital are too far apart at this time.”

Grim-faced representatives from Erlanger sat and listened as Cartwright addressed the commission. Joe Winick, who serves in management for the healthcare system, and Stephanie Boynton, who oversees Erlanger Bledsoe Hospital and the Erlanger Sequatchie emergency department, sat in silence as Cartwright spoke. Then Boynton addressed a few remarks to the commission, but Winick declined to speak.

Cartwright pointed out that the county and the hospital had enjoyed a good relationship for many years, during which Sequatchie County moved up from being ranked 91 out of 95 counties in Tennessee with regard to health, to 53rd place, thanks in large part to the efforts of Erlanger. And while this mutually beneficial relationship led to the proposed hospital project, the two parties simply could not reach a compromise.

Our original and primary focus from the beginning,” Cartwright said, “was to secure a contract that would meet our two-fold purpose of bringing exceptional healthcare to our county, but only if it could be done in a financially responsible way – in our case, it had to be both revenue neutral and provide certain guarantees.”

The basic proposal has been that the county would secure a loan to purchase land and build a hospital for Erlanger, and the health system would staff and manage the hospital, paying on a lease that would eventually reimburse the county's investment.

After a thorough review and consultation,” Cartwright said, “it is my opinion as your county executive that this proposal does not meet the thresholds we have required during this process, and therefore it is clear that we can not responsibly agree to these terms. It would not be in the county's best interest to move forward under these terms.”

Cartwright said this “financial reality” was the fault of neither party, and it did not preclude the possibility of building such a facility in the future, “when the financial position of the county improves, and when Erlanger Health Systems grows their business throughout the Sequatchie Valley and surrounding counties.”

Cartwright said that he had met with each of the 18 commissioners over the past week to discuss the issue, and all agreed that they are grateful “for Erlanger's continued presence in Sequatchie County, and we look forward to other potential opportunities in the future...”

In other business, the Sequatchie County Commission:

  • Approved a plan to implement video-conferencing at the county jail, for inmates to have their required visitation more conveniently, and authorized Sheriff Coy Swanger to negotiate a contract with the same company currently providing phone cards for inmates to purchase.
  • Approved surplus items from the county highway department, at the request of Road Superintendent Eric Higgins.
  • Heard Director of Schools Pete Swafford announce that the Sequatchie County High School (SCHS) girls' soccer team is the district champion for the first time ever, and they will play in the regional championship, at home, tomorrow night (Tuesday) at 4 p.m.
  • Heard Sheriff Swanger report his department received 921 calls during the last month, with 97 arrests / citations, and a total of 104 prisoners booked into the jail.
  • Approved bonds for three constables and Clerk & Master Tommy Goins.
  • Heard Audit Committee Chairman Tom Vennero state that property tax cards will be going out within the next two weeks, and that he anticipates “a very good report for the county” from the state auditors.
  • Approved new road names for two private roads on Fredonia Mountain, for the purpose of 911 mapping.
  • Received a report on ambulance response from Will Pitt, of Puckett EMS, who also informed the commission that the company is providing CPR classes and discount purchase of Automatic External Defibrillators (AED) to any civic or community group that is interested.
  • Listened to a report from Comm. Jeff Mackey from the new Emergency Services Committee, which is considering renegotiating the county's contract with Puckett when the current contract expires in April. Mackey also reported the committee discussed the need for the Fredonia repeater to be moved to Wolf Pen and for a new repeater to be mounted on the water tank in town, and allowing the wrecker services access to dispatch frequencies.
  • Approved transfer of funds amounting to $1,967 and $2,424 in insurance reimbursement.
  • Appointed Chip Kelly to the Sequatchie County Planning Commission.
  • Appointed Judy Layne and Raymond Farley as library trustees.
  • Approved Resolution 724, reappointing the 911 Board.
  • Approved Res. 725, opting out of the statewide building codes – which must be done every time a new commission takes office, to prevent state building codes being imposed on county residents.
  • Heard Comm. Vennero speak of the loss of city commissioner Jeff Johnson, who died unexpectedly last week.

All commissioners were present at Monday's meeting, and all votes were unanimous.

The next quarterly meeting of the Sequatchie County Commission is scheduled for Jan. 28, in the county courthouse, beginning at 7 p.m. A Budget Committee meeting will precede the regular commission meeting, at 6 p.m. All meetings are open to the public.