Wellmont to drop MSHA appeal

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   Wellmont Health Systems has announced it will no longer oppose Mountain States Health Alliance's (MSHA) relocation of beds from North Side Hospital to the Johnson City Medical Center. The announcement comes in the midst of a two year legal battle between the health care systems.
   Wellmont filed an appeal on the relocation of 42 regular hospital beds in January of 2002, but will voluntarily retract its appeal with the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency this week. MSHA received a Certificate of Need (CON) granting the movement of 54 patient beds, including 12 Neonatal Intensive Care beds, from North Side to the JCMC.
   "People in Washington County are tired of this legal wrangling and gamesmanship," Wellmont President, Eddie George said. "We're doing what's right for the people of Washington County. We won't stand in MSHA's way as it seeks to relocate beds to better serve its patients."
   Ed Herbert, MSHA's V.P. of Communications and Marketing, said they have already begun the process of moving the hospital beds. MSHA has already commenced construction in the NICU at the MedCenter. Skilled nursing beds have been moved to Northside Hospital, and Herbert stated MSHA is well on its way to an expanded ICU with step down beds.
   "With a unanimous decision by the Health Facilities Commission (HFC) when we applied for a CON, MSHA felt confident it would prevail," Herbert said.
   Wellmont's retraction of its appeal ends only one portion of the legal struggle over CONS. Officials from both Wellmont and MSHA agree the CON to relocate hospital beds, and Wellmont's quest for a new hospital in Johnson City, are separate issues.
   Wellmont has asserted it is fully committed to its efforts to build the new 65 bed facility and continues to seek a CON. "We'll continue to work for the best interests of the people and for a new hospital in Johnson City," George said.
   Herbert is pleased Wellmont has recognized MSHA's authority to reallocate hospital beds within its own facilities. "MSHA also agrees with Wellmont that this matter and the other CON concerning the 65 bed for-profit facility are two separate issues," Herbert said.
   Wellmont's proposed facility would be within one mile of the Johnson City Medical Center. The location and construction of the new hospital have met with a great deal of resistance from MSHA.
   According to the HFC, Wellmont's proposed $58 million project has to "meet need and economic factors, and contribute to the orderly development of adequate and effective health care facilities and services," in order to receive a CON.
   In March of 2002 a Nashville judge ruled against Wellmont's plans to build the new hospital in Johnson City. Wellmont has been appealing the decision ever since the ruling was handed down.
   Herbert stated that the endless legal stalemate is the result of Wellmont's continued efforts to receive a CON for its new facility. "MSHA feels the people think we are keeping this in the courts, and we are not road blocking this issue," Herbert said.