By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
COOKEVILLE – Although many citizens believe that the city-owned Cookeville Regional Medical Center (CRMC) is under the control of the city council, that is not true.
The city of Cookeville has no authority over the operations of city-owned hospital according to the five-page legal opinion issued by Knoxville attorney William J. Carver of Kramer Rayson LLP.
CRMC is a community hospital established by a Private Act and overseen by an independent Board of Trustees as set forth in Section 9 of the Private Act, according to Carver. Carver went on to detail the city’s role as it relates to CRMC.
“With the acceptance of the written legal opinion, we can provide greater clarity to the public of the city’s limited role in the operations and management of the city-owned hospital,” said Councilman Eric Walker. “Though many members of the public believe that the city council is responsible for the operations of CRMC, we find much clarity in Mr. Carver’s summary of the roles and responsibilities of the council in regards to CRMC.”
The legal opinion states that the city council plays three roles related to CRMC. First, S 2.05(6) and 9.01 of the Charter authorizes city council to “[a]ppoint the members of the Hospital Board of Trustees.” Second, CRMC must provide city council “financial statements and other reports as may be required by said council” as set forth in 13 of the Private Act in addition to “submit[ing] annually to the Cookeville City Council, . . . a budget . . . as required by CRMC By-Laws \3.7.11. The city of Cookeville, however, does not provide funding to CRMC. Third, the city of Cookeville actually owns the real property where CRMC operates.
As for operations at CRMC, the Board of Trustees hires “and define[s] the duties and establish[es] the compensation of CRMC’s Chief Executive Officer. As a practical matter, the CEO maintains responsibility for other CRMC hires.
“I am somewhat disappointed that the findings have shown that the Cookeville City Council’s role in the hospital’s operations are much more limited than I was aware,” said Walker.
The city of Cookeville’s role in CRMC is limited to appointing Trustees and controlling the physical property of the hospital.
Some councilmen have questioned the ability of the city council to inquire into hospital operations, but Carver was quick to state that the city could inquire about the operation of hospital facilities, but is limited to actual hospital facilities (i.e. real property and perhaps personal property, equipment, fixtures, etc.).
This legal opinion resulting from the council’s recent investigation into the hiring of Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton by CRMC has answered many unspoken questions about the council’s rights and responsibilities regarding the hospital and its operation.
It also answered the question about where to go with questions and concerns about CRMC – to the CRMC Board of Trustees and the hospital itself – although some were not happy with the answer.
Walker added, “I wish that we could bring a more decisive conclusion, but it is hard, the analogy being ‘It’s hard to decide what’s wrong with a car without looking under the hood.’ Without looking at the oil and checking under the hood, you just don’t know, and I think that’s a problem.”