ERWIN — Although the fate of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital lies in the hands of the members of the hospital’s Board of Control, petitions for both of UCMH’s suitors are circulating the county, giving residents the opportunity to voice whether they favor Wellmont Health System or Mountain States Health Alliance in acquiring UCMH.
Several copies of a pro-Wellmont petition, which include approximately 420 signatures from Unicoi County residents, have already been submitted to the UCMH CEO’s office. The petition reads: “After much thought the following undersigned people feel it is in the best interest of the citizens of Unicoi County to accept the proposal of Wellmont Health System to acquire the Unicoi County Hospital. If it were to come to a vote by the citizens, we feel the majority would overwhelming(ly) go with Wellmont. After all, we will be the citizens using the hospital.”
Unicoi County resident Bill Gaines, who has been involved with other pro-Wellmont activities, said the petition was started by a Limestone Cove resident, adding that the petition is likely to garner more signatures as additional copies are currently circulating the county.
“Of course the board will make the decision, but we look at it that the board is stewards of the public trust, and they really do need to take into account the feelings of the majority of the people,” Gaines said.
While he said the petitions are a good idea, Gaines said he is encouraging those in favor of Wellmont to contact members of the UCMH Board of Control directly to make their preference known.
“I think personal contact is the best way for each person that’s in favor of Wellmont, personal contact with their board members,” Gaines said.
Wellmont President/CEO Denny DeNarvaez said she is appreciative for the support shown to her organization, calling it “humbling.” She also said that it was this community support, which started early in the acquisition process, that led to Wellmont’s increased efforts to acquire UCMH.
“It’s actually that level of support that got us so excited about making sure that we jumped into this process and basically understood more about what it was that the Unicoi County board was looking for, because we really felt the support coming from the community,” DeNarvaez said. “The petitions are just one of many examples of ways that folks have reached out to us.”
Meanwhile, petitions favoring a MSHA acquisition are also circulating the county. None of these petitions have yet been submitted to the UCMH CEO’s office or to the UCMH Board of Control, but MSHA spokeswoman Teresa Hicks said the petitions will be submitted to the board prior to its decision on the acquisition.
“We’re aware that Wellmont has petitions circulating,” Hicks said. “We also have petitions circulating, and some of them are being promoted by Unicoi County residents who don’t have any affiliation with us.”
Because the MSHA petitions are still circulating the county, it is unknown how many signatures have been obtained so far, Hicks said.
Several Unicoi County physicians have lent their signatures to a petition started by UCMH emergency room physician Dr. Ken Trzil. The petition reads: “We, the undersigned physicians and members of the health care community in Unicoi County, encourage the board of control, in the name of patient care, to select the acquisition proposal from Mountain States Health Alliance.”
Trzil said the petition has been signed by the majority of the county’s physicians and will be submitted to the UCMH Board of Control prior to its acquisition decision. Trzil said outcomes with local patients have benefited from UCMH’s long-standing relationship with MSHA. He said many of the county’s physicians are in favor of continuing that relationship.
“It’s no disrespect to Wellmont, it’s just the practice patterns developed over time,” Trzil said.
UCMH Board of Control Chairman Glenn Tilson said public preference could factor into the board’s decision when it meets to accept the acquisition proposal from either Wellmont or MSHA.
“I think the board will probably try to consider everything and try to make the best decision for the medical care of the residents of Unicoi County,” Tilson said.
The UCMH Board of Control is set to meet Wednesday at 4 p.m. at the hospital. According to a notice of the meeting, the board will immediately move into a strategic planning session for the purpose of working with its recently hired attorneys from McGuire, Wood and Bissette on the proposed hospital transaction.