Polk eyes possible foreclosure of hospital

Posted 12/22/17

DUCKTOWN — The Polk County Commission is seeking a "resolution" to the recent closure of the Copper Basin Medical Center, and indebtedness incurred by the county and city of Ducktown.Commissioners …

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Polk eyes possible foreclosure of hospital

DUCKTOWN — The Polk County Commission is seeking a "resolution" to the recent closure of the Copper Basin Medical Center, and indebtedness incurred by the county and city of Ducktown.
Commissioners met Thursday at the Copper Basin Community Center to consider a resolution to allow County Attorney Eric Brooks to take steps toward this goal, up to foreclosure. 
Items of the resolution included accelerating the hospital loans; appointing City Attorney Eric Brooks as a substitute trustee; authorizing Brooks to proceed with appropriate remedies available to Polk County and Ducktown under the notes, including but not limited to foreclosure; and authorizing County Executive Hoyt Firestone to execute any documents and take action on behalf of Polk County necessary to carry out the intent of the resolution.
Commissioners emphasized that their No. 1 priority is to pay employees who have not yet been paid.
Chief Financial Officer Tim Henry provided commissioners with a list of 36 former employees who are still awaiting their final paychecks. The total amount is approximately $70,000.
The resolution was approved following a lengthy discussion, and the county attorney said he will be moving ahead immediately.
The ultimate goal, Brooks said,would be to find a buyer (or lessee) for the property, who can provide some type of medical services to the community.
At the end of Thursday night's meeting, the commission also approved $12,000 from the county's general fund to pay Henry's salary for the next couple of months so he can finalize the closure of the facility.
Henry said Copper Basin Medical Center has been bankrupt for 10 years. "No one was willing to say it," he emphasized.
Henry must file documents with Medicaid, Medicare, the IRS and other agencies with claims against the hospital.  There is also a matter of W2s for the employees, and medical records.
The Copper Basin medical facility has served the healthcare needs of the surrounding community for approximately 60 years, which includes Copperhill, Ducktown, Turtletown in Tennessee and McCaysville, Ga.
Hospital officials had cited cash flow problems as the reason for scaled-down of services a few months ago, and commissioners and Ducktown officials agreed to take responsibility for a bank loan to keep the medical center afloat. The bank had planned foreclosure.
Copper Basin was unable to assume its portion of the note, since the city was experiencing some financial difficulties of its own.
Since that time the hospital has failed in its recovery effort, and has closed down completely. 
The hospital stopped taking patients back on Oct. 1, with all serious healthcare needs having to be addressed in Blue Springs, Ga.; Murphy, N.C.; Cleveland; Chattanooga; or elsewhere.
With this action, Copper Basin Medical Center became the 10th rural community hospital in Tennessee to cease operation since 2010.
The hospital had been unable to pay vendor expenses for some time prior to closing, as well as expenses for supplies, services, and salaries.
The inability to pay salaries was said to be the final issue for the decision to completely close the facility.
The hospital was constructed in 1954, with the mining industry and its employees contributing. The closing of the last copper mine 30 years ago proved a detriment to the hospital and its hoped-for growth.
A lack of investment and decline in patients handicapped the hospital. Mounting debt created a number of ups and downs for the facility and its officials.
 Fifteen nurses were let go last fall, some are still waiting pay.

“We were fiscally irresponsible to continue operating the way we were, and were not going to do that,” said Henry at the time.

The sudden halt of inpatient care was a surprise to much of the staff, including nurses working in that department who were dismissed from employment. 

Henry said that was a difficult decision, and there were others that followed. There were also claims of mismanagement.

Jack Collins, a nine-year board member, went on record to say the hospital didn't collect the debt from patient's accounts. Henry said Thursday evening accounts receivable are still being collected

Hospital officials, including Henry, had anticipate an influx of cash by the end of the year, when they approached the commission on the loan issue. The medical facility was also paying off an excessive debt to the Internal Revenue Service resulting from salary payments.

They were hoping to raise $100,000 to keep the hospital running, although they had raised less than $500. Those anticipations failed to materialized, resulting in the complete closure of the hospital.

Other Commission business:

• Commissioners approved a motion for the county attorney to draft a letter to the Tennessee Department of Transportation urging some tree cuttings on State Route 033.

Commissioner Greg Brooks said there are six trees along Curbow Hill that are at risk of falling into passing traffic. "They could fall onto a school bus," Brooks said.

• Two Benton residents, Nikki Lea Bloom and Patricia Peterson, were approved as notaries.

• Steve Norwood, commander of the Benton AmVets Post, attended the meeting to solicit the Commission's support of local veterans.

Norwood also questioned whether or not the county has a Veterans Affairs Officer. He was told Roy Campbell has resigned, although there is a secretary in the office.

The county will be replacing Campbell from an existing applications pool or new applicants.


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