Monday, March 04, 2019

Tenn. town braces for economic impact after hospital closes

Cumberland River Hospital employees leave just before the hospital officially closed at 7 a.m. March 1
(Photo by Ben Wheeler of the Herald-Citizen in Cookeville, home of the hospital's parent hospital)
Friday morning, the staff of Cumberland River Hospital in Celina, Tennessee, walked out the doors for the last time, as the hospital closed and left the rural community bracing for more bad news.
The hospital is "the 11th rural hospital in Tennessee to close in recent years — more than any state but Texas," Blake Farmer reports for WPLN 90.3 FM in Nashville. "Now the remote lakeside community of 1,500 people is bracing for inevitable ripple effects, which include a blow to the city's economic development plan to attract retirees."

Seniors generally need more medical care, and the nearby hospital was a big selling point for potential new residents. But Susan Scovel, who has led efforts to attract retirees to relocate to Celina, says she now can't in good conscience recommend the town to a senior with health problems. "I'd say look elsewhere," she told Farmer.

Celina and Clay County, Tennessee (Wikipedia map)
"The closest hospital is now 18 miles away, in the town of Livingston," over roads that wind through the Highland Rim hills bordering the river valley, Farmer reports. "That adds another 30 minutes ... for those who need an X-ray or blood work. For those in the back of an ambulance, it could make the difference between life or death."

Not only could the town miss out on potential residents, it is likely to lose many who are employed in health care, a well-paying line of work, and may want to live closer to a new job at another hospital. The hospital was the second-largest employer in town, behind the Clay County Schools.

The town could lose non-emergency medical services too, since Celina's three practicing physicians now don't have admitting privileges at a hospital. At least one of the doctors, Jessie Lee Copeland, says he plans to continue practicing in Celina despite that, Farmer reports.

Cookeville Regional Medical Center, two counties away, owns Cumberland River Hospital, and said in January that it would close it after it couldn't find a buyer. Hospital officials told Farmer that "declining reimbursements and lower patient volumes" were to blame for the closure. Rural hospital closures are concentrated in states such as Tennessee and Texas that did not expand Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

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