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Unicoi Co. hospital board to vote MSHA or Wellmont

By Meredith Machen, mmachen@wcyb.com
Published On: Nov 27 2012 09:12:13 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 27 2012 12:59:50 PM CST
UNICOI COUNTY, Tenn. -

 A vote will soon decide a local hospital's future.

Wednesday, the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Board of Control will vote to accept a proposal from either Mountain States Health Alliance or Wellmont Health System to take over, and the anticipation is building.

It's become the talk of the town, and it's stirred-up the residents of Unicoi County.

Will its small community hospital lie in the hands of Mountain States Health Alliance or Wellmont Health System?

"It's kind of sad to see issues that divide the county, but unfortunately, this issue has been contentious," said Greg Lynch, Unicoi County mayor.

There's been weeks of debate; all the way from hospital officials to the new entity's future patients.

"If Wellmont gets this, we will have that choice. If Mountain States gets it, they'll have a monopoly," said resident Bill Gaines.

"I have a heart issue, so if I had to be transported, I'd rather be transported to Johnson City than Bristol or Kingsport," said resident Mick Bergendahl.

Healthcare aside; County Mayor Greg Lynch told News 5 with "new and improved" promised on both sides of the deal, either decision could be a good one by helping healthcare graduates land jobs in the county and possibly bring in new businesses near the facility.

"This is just a little bit different than a community hospital that's gone under. We have a certificate of need, but we also have an opportunity here in Unicoi County for this to become something of an economic boom to our county," Lynch said.

Bill Gaines told News 5 as a resident involved in this decision, the process of getting to a vote hasn't been without frustration.

"The only public input we've had was at a meeting called by the county mayor, which was an informational meeting where both people spoke from both hospitals," Gaines explained.

But with an end in sight, for residents it can finally be the start of a new beginning.

"Oh I'm ready for it to get over just like I was ready for the November election to get over. I was ready for that to go," said Bergendahl.

Again, that meeting will be Wednesday at 4:00 in the afternoon at Erwin's town hall.    

Board members will vote to accept one of the two proposals.    

The public is invited; however the county mayor told us they will not be allowed to speak.   

Mayor Lynch also expects a very large turnout and suggests getting there early if you'd like to attend.