ERWIN — Big changes are in store for Unicoi County Memorial Hospital once its acquisition by Mountain States Health Alliance becomes official, and one man who will be heavily involved in much of this work is newly-hired UCMH administrator Tracy Byers.
Last month, MSHA announced that Byers had been selected to serve as administrator of UCMH, which has been under a management with MSHA since late last year pending UCMH’s acquisition by MSHA. Although this represents Byers’ first job within the MSHA organization, he brings approximately 20 years of health care experience to UCMH.
Byers, a Nashville native, began graduate work in the field of clinical psychology at University of Louisville in Kentucky immediately following his graduation from Nashville’s Lipscomb University, where he received a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. After a few years spent working in the clinical psychology field, Byers said he began to gravitate toward the administrative side of health care.
Following his work at the University of Louisville, Byers relocated to North Carolina and began a Masters program in health care administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. During this time, Byers had the opportunity to intern at NorthCrest Medical Center, which is located near Nashville. He said the internship went well, and working at NorthCrest Medical Center became a post-graduate opportunity. Byers spent a little more than two years at the hospital.
After his stint at NorthCrest, Byers returned to North Carolina, where he began working with Tenet Healthcare, a national for-profit organization that currently owns around 60 hospitals across the country. There, Byers first worked as director of business development at a hospital in Sanford, N.C. After a couple of years in that role, Byers began internal consulting work for Tenet, before taking a position as assistant administrator at Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital in the the Winston-Salem area.
Byers would subsequently serve as CEO on Muhlenberg Community Hospital in Greenville, Ky., before becoming COO of the Harton Regional Medical Center in Tullahoma. After this, he would once again serve as COO of a hospital, this time the Great Plains Regional Medical Center in Elk City, Okla.
Byers said he was aware of MSHA due to time spent in Tennessee. Once the opportunity to serve as UCMH administrator under the MSHA umbrella presented itself, Byers said he could not pass on the chance. His first day on the job at UCMH was Sept. 9.
“I had been out of the state, so I didn’t even know the politics of what was going on in Unicoi,” he said. “I just saw this and figured I couldn’t pass it up, because Mountain States was definitely that type of organization I had been wanting to work with for some time and, luckily, things worked out.”
As administrator, Byers will be responsible for such duties as physician recruitment, fielding patient complaints, looking into physician issues, negotiating contracts and being the “face” of UMCH in the community.
Byers said he and his family relocated to Unicoi County earlier this month. Shortly after his arrival, he attended a pair of town hall meetings in the county in which UCMH’s sale to MSHA was a topic of discussion.
“The community has been very welcoming,” he said. “As I go to the public forums, the one thing I hear is how much people love this place. Although I’m not able to speak to everything that’s on the table as far as the plans for this hospital just from not having been familiar with it, people come up to me and tell me their story of their loved one having been saved by this facility or having been treated in long-term care. People are proud of Unicoi and definitely want to see it succeed.”
The new UCMH administrator also said he is impressed by the years of service possessed a number of UCMH employees and their dedication to the hospital.
“To have gone through all that they have with this hospital, I think, just speaks volumes of the community,” he said.
Byers will take over for UCMH Interim CEO Jete Edmisson, who has served in late role since July 2012 and whose last day at UCMH is Sept. 30. Byers said he has worked closely with Edmisson, adding that Edmisson has been a valuable resource who has done an “incredible job.” Still, he said having a permanent administrator onboard will likely ease some of the uncertainty employees have experienced during the acquisition process.
“I think it really made a lot of employees feel good to see that permanent CEO who’s part of the community here now,” Byers said. “Again, I’ve heard the same thing of how much this means to them.”
In November, the UCMH Board of Control voted to accept an proposal from MSHA to acquire UCMH over one submitted by Wellmont Health System. However, the transaction was delayed in June due to concerns the state attorney general’s office, which must review the sale process, had regarding the transaction. Although he was not around during the sale process, Byers said he has received feedback from members of the community.
“I have not had anyone yet come up to me and say they wish it had been Wellmont,” Byers said. “I have had some people say they were pro-Wellmont that are looking forward to working with me and will give me every opportunity. That’s kind of been the theme so far of what I’ve heard from people.”
Byers said MSHA officials, UCMH staff and community members alike hope the acquisition process is nearing an end. Since June, the UCMH Board of Control has taken steps to address the attorney general’s concerns and, as of Sept. 9, the board has submitted these materials to the attorney general’s office, Byers said. He said MSHA officials hope closing of the sale will occur by Nov. 1.
MSHA officials have stated that once closing occurs, work to bring a new UCMH facility to Unicoi County can begin. Byers said he is excited to get started and take part in this process.
“If you had to ask me what part of health care administration is the most fun, to me, it’s the strategic planning and actual construction part,” Byers said. “I’ve got to go through that one time prior where you literally started with an idea and drawing, and then started crunching the numbers and get the approval. It wasn’t a complete replacement facility, but it was pretty close. To me, that’s the exciting part of health care and, again, knowing what they’ve been through here, knowing how dedicated the staff is, just to imagine what they’re going to be like when they do see a new building and be able to take care of the patient population around here, you’ve really impacted a group of people when you’ve done that.”