Erwin board again supports MSHA acquisition of hospital, approves half of funding request for shelter

Brad Hicks • Aug 27, 2013 at 7:01 AM

ERWIN — The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen took steps Monday to address a pair of divisive issues that have recently faced Unicoi County.

Four days after the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Board of Control again voted to move forward with allowing Mountain States Health Alliance to acquire Unicoi County’s financially struggling community hospital, the board lent its approval to the move.

The board voted Monday to approve a resolution to approve the sale of UCMH to MSHA per the UCMH Board of Control’s decision. The measure passed by a 4-0 vote, with Alderman Robie Sullins abstaining.

Following the board’s vote, MSHA President/CEO Dennis Vonderfecht, who was in attendance at Monday’s meeting, thanked the board.

“We appreciate the vote by the commission and look forward to concluding this process and, I think more importantly, we look forward to having Unicoi County Memorial Hospital as an important family member of Mountain States Health Alliance,” Vonderfecht said.

In November, the UCMH Board of Control voted to accept a revised proposal from MSHA to acquire UCMH over a proposal submitted by Wellmont Health System.

On June 25, the UCMH Board announced UCMH’s pending sale to MSHA had been delayed due to a trio of concerns the office had regarding the sale process.

According to a letter from the attorney general’s office sent to attorneys representing the UCMH Board, the office’s concerns were the UCMH Board’s failure to comply with the state’s Open Meetings Act during the sale process, questions over how monetary contributions outlined in the MSHA proposal would be spent and the UCMH Board’s failure to obtain the approvals of the sale from the town of Erwin and Unicoi County per the UCMH charter.

At Thursday’s meeting, UCMH Board of Control attorney Lou Bissette said that evening’s public meeting was being held to address the attorney general’s concern regarding the Open Meetings Act. Following Monday’s meeting, Erwin Town Recorder Randy Trivette said town officials hope the board’s vote will address part of the attorney general’s concern regarding approval of the sale by the local governments.

“By this vote, we’re allowing them to move forward with whatever action and proposals that they’ve already accepted,” Trivette said.

Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said Monday that although the Unicoi County Commission is currently short one commissioner due to last month’s resignation of Doug Bowman from the panel, he said the commission can legally vote on county matters. However, Lynch said the county is still awaiting word from the UCMH Board of Control on how to proceed and will likely wait until the vacancy is filled before the commission considers approval of the hospital sale.

The Unicoi County Commission is set to hold a called meeting Aug. 6 to fill the commission’s vacancy, and Lynch’s consideration of the sale may take place at this meeting. If it is not considered then, Lynch said the item would be up for the commission’s consideration at its regular meeting Aug. 26.

The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen also unanimously voted to have the town provide one-half of the funding previously requested by the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board to go toward the Unicoi County Animal Shelter. Through this move, the town will continue to participate in the county shelter through the interlocal agreement currently in place at least until Jan. 1.

On June 10, the Erwin board voted not to contribute to the welfare board’s budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, opting instead to move forward with having the town operate its own animal shelter separate from the county shelter. According to the interlocal agreement enacted in 2006, which is now still in effect, each of Unicoi County’s three governments were to contribute equal annual funding to the welfare board’s budget. Officials with the county shelter previously said that the loss of Erwin’s nearly $23,300 in funding could threaten future facility operations.

Funding for the welfare board has already been allocated in the town of Unicoi’s 2013-14 budget and is currently allocated in Unicoi County’s proposed 2013-14 budget, which has not yet been approved.

On July 12, the mayors of the county’s three governmental bodies met to discuss a possible resolution by which all three municipalities would remain part of the county shelter. Per the proposed solution, both Erwin’s and the county’s animal control officers would become county employees under the supervision of the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department. The county’s governments would also look to contract with the Unicoi County Humane Society to have it run the county shelter, with each government contributing equal funding toward this contract.

Through this proposal, a board of control made up of the three mayors and other members would replace the current Animal Welfare Board. A new interlocal agreement would have to be enacted to effect any changes, and officials hope that an ironed-out agreement can be reached by Jan. 1.

With its vote Monday, the town will contribute $11,635 to the Animal Welfare Board. If a new agreement is reached by Jan. 1, the town will contribute this same amount for the remainder of the 2013-14 fiscal year.

“We are in conversations with the town of Unicoi and also Unicoi County concerning the interlocal agreement with the Unicoi County Animal Shelter, and we are making progress, the other two mayors and I,” Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said. “We definitely want to see the animal shelter stay in place, and it will stay in place, regardless of whether the town of Erwin opts to be a part of it or not. The Unicoi County Animal Shelter will still be down there and doing the tremendous job that it already does.”

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