The Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Board of Control has set a date for when it will accept a proposal from one of the two health care entities interested in acquiring UCMH.
UCMH Board of Control Chairman Glenn Tilson said a meeting will be held Nov. 28 at 4 p.m. at Erwin Town Hall for the purpose of the board voting to accept one of the revised acquisition proposals from either Wellmont Health System or Mountain States Health Alliance.
Tilson announced this meeting following a more than two-hour closed Tuesday meeting with attorneys from McGuire, Wood and Bissette, the firm hired recently to represent the board during the hospital’s transaction. Tilson said the Nov. 28 meeting will be open to the public, but the board will not hear comments from the public.
“The board will accept one of the two proposals,” Tilson said.
Tilson also said the revised proposals, which were submitted to the board on Oct. 10, will once again be put out for public review today to ensure that anyone interested has the opportunity to view them before the meeting.
“We are going to put both of them out tomorrow morning to make sure they’re still out there for the people to review,” Tilson said Tuesday evening.
The board met in a called session Tuesday, quickly voting to enter a closed strategic planning session to discuss the proposals with attorneys after calling the meeting to order. Tilson said the board did not make a decision regarding the proposals during the planning session, only holding the planning session to discuss the proposals.
“We couldn’t vote at all,” Tilson said. “We just discussed here tonight.”
Although discussions with the attorneys were closed, Wellmont supporters and officials once again attended the meeting, as was the case when the board met with attorneys on Nov. 7. Wellmont supporter and county resident Bill Gaines said fellow supporters have continued to show up for the closed meetings to show the board they care and that they are watching the board’s actions with great interest.
“All the people I know, it’s not that we’re against Mountain States at all,” county resident and Wellmont supporter Judy Ray said. “But this is like ‘Do you want to play ball on your home court, or do you not want to have a home court and always have to go out and play your game?’ That’s the same way as this medical care is.”
Wellmont official Lee Fish said her organization’s continued presence at the meetings, whether open or closed, is to show its support for the community.
“For me, it’s speaks volumes to continue to stay here and to be here and to show up, because it’s not just a matter of what the end process is,” Fish said. “We’ve made a commitment, and we want the board to understand every time there is a meeting or function, someone from Wellmont is committed to make sure that they have a face and to be here. We owe these people that, and we owe the hospital that, and our support is our presence.”
Members of the public waiting for the closed meeting to conclude also expressed opinion that the meetings with attorneys should have been open. Tennessee Press Association Public Policy Director Frank Gibson said he is also of the opinion that meetings with the attorneys for the purpose of discussing the proposals should be open to the public.
“It sounds like they are deliberating,” Gibson said. “Whether they actually vote or not is irrelevant. They are discussing these proposals with lawyers.”
However, attorney W. Louis Bissette Jr. said he feels his firm’s meetings with the board are allowed under the exception in state law that permits public hospital boards to meet in closed strategic planning sessions.