Hospital merger approval process expected to drag on through end of year, maybe 2017

NASHVILLE, TN (WJHL) – It is looking more and more unlikely that the proposed Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System merger will be approved in 2016, considering the Tennessee Department of Health’s timeline.

The Department of Health, which is responsible for overseeing the Certificate Of Public Advantage process, held a public hearing earlier this month, but it won’t be the last one.

“There will be at least another COPA public hearing like the one held on June 7 in Blountville,” Communications and Media Relations Associate Director Bill Christian said. “We will let the public know as soon as the next public hearing is finalized.”

According to Christian, the Department of Health has not yet deemed Wellmont and MSHA’s COPA application complete.

“Once deemed complete a 120-day review process will begin by TDH along with the State Attorney General’s Office,” he said.

If that review started today it would continue through the end of October, and that’s not considering the process in Virginia.

“The working groups are still actively reviewing, getting additional information from the applicants,” attorney Jeff Mitchell said of the merger approval process involving the Southwest Virginia Health Authority’s approval of the merger.

According to Mitchell, the merger application is not deemed complete at this time.

“The comment period has not started,” Mitchell said. “The Authority has continued to meet and there have been presentations to the Authority, but not official (public) ‘comments’ as set forth in the statute.”

The health systems originally hoped to close on the deal in August. Wellmont Senior Vice President of System Advancement Todd Norris says although that was the initial estimate, since this merger is the first of its kind, officials really didn’t know how long it would take to secure approval. Regardless, he says the health systems are supportive of a deliberate process.

“The most important thing for all to keep in mind at this point is the process is more important than the timing, getting it right is more important than the timing,” Norris said. “We’re very interested in making sure that the process leads to a final outcome that is in the best interest of the region, the best interest of the community…This is a once in a lifetime opportunity really to get this right.”

Tennessee has spent the last several months collecting feedback from the public. We’ve obtained the dozens of emails and letters sent to the Department of Health since February. We’ll tell you what those documents reveal Tonight at 6 on News Channel 11.

Copyright WJHL 2016. All rights reserved.

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