ONEIDA, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A Tennessee senator called out a public health company that owns multiple hospitals in East Tennessee for the company's "concerning" business practices.
Senator Marsha Blackburn released a letter on January 30 to the CEO of Rennova Health, Seamus Lagan.
In it, she said, "I write to express my concerns about access to health care for the rural residents of the state of Tennessee...Recent media reports regarding facilities owned by your company, Rennova Health, have been concerning."
She also demanded that Lagan and Rennova Health answer three questions by February 11, 2020.
"1. According to your website, Rennova Health Inc. is a 'vertically integrated Public Company that provides industry leading diagnostics and supportive software solutions to healthcare providers.' Do you believe your company has the expertise to run a hospital? If so, please explain.
2. Do you believe your company is adequately capitalized to support one, two, or three hospitals?
3. To your knowledge, are Jellico Community Hospital and Big South Fork Medical Center compliant with CMS conditions of participation."
You can read the full letter under the "Related Documents" tab.
What has happened with Rennova Health?
In 2018, Rennova Health, a "public healthcare holding company," purchased the Jamestown Regional Medical Center in Jamestown, Tennessee and the Jellico Community Hospital in Campbell County.
Less than two years later, one closed and the other inched closer to shuttering its doors.
WVLT News reporter Robert Grant followed the journey of employees at Jamestown Regional, where they claimed Rennova never sent money to the state or IRS and where CBS affiliate WTVF reported that, before the hospital closed, many employees were surprised to learn that they didn't have health insurance from their employer.
Jamestown Regional closed after losing federal funding in June, 2019, leaving 150 people without jobs. Shortly after, State Representative John Windle called for the state to investigate Rennova.
"They violated the law and they should be held to account for it," said State Representative Windle on Wednesday as he called on the state department to conduct an audit of Rennova Health. The hospital is in his district.
Rennova also owns Big South Fork Medical Center, located in Oneida, and Jellico Community Hospital, located in Campbell County. Both have had problems in the past.
In September 2019, employees with the Jellico Hospital told WVLT News reporter Robert Grant that their paychecks had been delayed three times. WVLT News also revealed that, according to Florida Blue, insurance for Jellico Hospital employees had been terminated. However, employees claimed that insurance premiums were still coming out of their pay checks.
A few weeks later, employees at the Big South Fork hospital told Grant that payday had been delayed for them several times, too.
Employees at the Oneida hospital had similar claims to those of Jellico hospital employees. They also said that, though their insurance was canceled at the first of July, Rennova continued to deduct insurance premiums.
In December 2019, Rennova came under fire again after an employee reached out to WVLT News and claimed that doctors hadn't been paid at the Jellico Community Hospital in more than two months. Other employees were late on their paychecks as well, the employee said.
In January 2020, employees at Big South Fork Medical reached out to WVLT News reporter Robert Grant again to say they were late being paid.
Employees told Grant they were supposed to be paid on January 10, but weren't paid until January 24. Additionally, employees claimed that the hospital's human resources department reached out to local utility companies to ask them not turn off the hospital employees' electricity.
Plateau Electric confirmed that the hospital had emailed them and that they were "working with employees."
What's Rennova Health's response?
Each time employees of any Rennova Health company have approached or reached out to WVLT News, WVLT News has made serious, vigorous efforts to get in touch with hospital administrators, with Rennova Health and with its CEO.
In January, WVLT News attempted to speak with Hal Leftwich, the CEO of Big South Fork, but were not allowed to meet with him.
According to Rennova Health's website, the company headquarters is located in West Palm Beach. Google Images showed the address listed is a strip mall. The exact suite is actually a UPS store.
WVLT spoke with a human resources representative from Rennova Health on Jan. 22 who said someone would have to call back with information. WVLT News reached out again and received no response.
What is the state of rural hospitals?
The closure of Jamestown Regional has left a hole in the community. It's an experience rural communities across the U.S. are beginning to understand well. In 2019, Navigant reported that more than 95 rural hospitals across 26 states closed since 2010.
In that report, more than 34 states had five or more rural hospitals at high financial risk. At the time, Tennessee had six.
After the closure of the Jamestown hospital, health officials told WVLT News that it would take millions to get any of the closed, rural hospitals back up and running.
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