By Michelle Price
UCBJ Managing Editor
CELINA – In a brief ceremony held at Cumberland River Hospital (CRH) in Celina on Wednesday, Cookeville Regional Medical Center (CRMC) CEO Paul Korth officially handed over the reins of the hospital to Johnny Presley and Rural Hospital & Clinics of America, LLC.
Presley and Korth were joined by state and local elected leaders, doctors, media, federal liaisons and representatives from both CRMC and Presley’s companies.
“We’re excited to have this opportunity today and to welcome Johnny to Celina and Clay County. I’m excited to be able to sell this facility and operation to Johnny,” said Korth. “We’re going to be here to help Johnny to do the things that they are not able to do here in Celina. We’ve had a great partnership with Johnny, like I said, with some work we’ve done with him in Crossville and some clinics up there. Johnny, we’re excited to have you and welcome to Celina.”
“First of all, I’d like to thank Paul for the opportunity to come to Clay County and the challenge to take this on and run it,” said Presley. “We have several clinics. We bought several – an acute care clinic in Crossville and last year I purchased the clinics of Mr. Doug Smith who passed away, so I have clinics in Clarkrange, as well as Jamestown.”
Closing documents for the purchase were signed on Friday, Aug. 2 allowing Presley to officially begin the process of transferring the hospital’s licenses and initiating the enrollment process with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
“We’re just looking forward to this adventure of opening this up,” said Presley. “I know everybody wants it open tomorrow but there’s a process unfortunately. You have to go through the state and get state approval.
“Once you have state approval then you have to go before the federal government and get Medicare approval before we can actually open up an emergency room or the facility itself, but in the next 30 to 60 days we anticipate for sure having a clinic open up here running and hopefully, assuming we can get state approval, we can open the doors and do some things here.”
State Rep. Kelly Keisling stated that Presley and he had spent Tuesday meeting with the licensure people at the Tennessee Department of Health. He also expressed willingness to travel to Washington to discuss the need for the hospital with representatives of CMS if necessary.
“All three applications of been applied for,” added Presley. “Rep. Keisling and myself have been on the phone on a daily basis, motivating them and pushing them to get this thing through because lives are at risk here every day. You know it’s been a crisis on the ambulance service here. They only have two ambulances here and it’s (CRMC) 40 minutes away.”
Paul Korth added that the turnaround for an ambulance to return to Clay County is often 3-4 hours since the ambulance must remain at the hospital to complete the transfer instead of turning around immediately.
Presley is working diligently to recruit physicians back into the community. He did not divulge most of the names, but did share that Dr. Mark Hendrixson, a Crossville oncologist, is willing to come to Celina on a regular basis. He also mentioned that he had reached out to the representatives at Tennessee Heart.
Presley introduced Dr. Barton Clements, a general surgeon who will be involved once the hospital is up and running.
“My grandfather, C.W. Dixon, was on the board as a county commissioner when the hospital was first opened, so this has a special meaning for me,” said Clements. “I grew up in this county, and I think it’s exciting that it’s potentially going to be open again. I think they have a good crew in place to make it happen, if it’s going to happen again.”
“You all have already heard from Dr. Clements and Paul, of their passion, their emotion for this community,” added Keisling. “Johnny’s got a great legal team that’s in position and we appreciate him. It’s really important that we’re getting the word out and we’re very excited. We’re ready to load and go to Washington if we have to do that.”
Clay County Chamber Director Kevin Donaldson was excited about not just the health impacts of the hospital sale but the economic development impacts also.
“Health care coming back to Cumberland River Hospital is fantastic news,” said Donaldson. “I know so many Clay County residents will breathe and sleep much better knowing the facility will reopen in the near future.
“In addition to the all-important health care aspect of this, the reopening should give us a much-needed boost in economic development through jobs creation. We hope to see as many displaced workers as possible from the closure earlier this year put back to work.”
Clay County Mayor Dale Reagan summed up the community’s thoughts on the day.
“I just want to echo what has already been said but to certainly thank you so much and certainly want to thank everyone for the prayers because I know a lot of praying’s been going on since this happened,” said Reagan. “The good Lord is good, and he’s always taken care of us and everything. I want to welcome you to Clay County and I’m sure I can speak for the city mayor as well, the city of Celina and we’re here to try to be with you, and baby step with you. We’re just looking forward to working with the Presley family and that whole group to get medical services back up and going in Clay County.”