TN Dept. of Health: Mountain States, Wellmont COPA application for proposed merger ‘not complete’

TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) – News Channel 11 has learned some new developments in the proposed hospital merger between two major hospital systems in our region.

The merger between the Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System is on hold for now.

The state of Tennessee deemed the application process for Mountain States and Wellmont Certificate of Public Advantage incomplete. The hospital systems originally filled the joint application on February 16, 2016.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, “The application submitted on February 16, 2016 was not complete.” The document goes on to say: “After the applicants provided additional submissions in response to the requests from the department (TDH), the department deemed the application complete on September 15, 2016…once the department deems the application complete, the commissioner of the department has 120 days to either grant or deny the application.”

That 120-day process ended January 13, 2017.

According to statements released Friday by the hospitals, Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont  asked for an extension so they can provide more information to their application for the Tennessee Certificate of Public Advantage.

According to the public document,”The applicants (Wellmont and Mountain States) have requested the opportunity to make further submissions to their application for the department’s consideration. Accordingly, the applicants have requested that the commissioner withdraw the September 15, 2016 decision deeming the application complete.”

The TDH granted Wellmont and Mountain States’ request to withdraw the previous decision deeming the application complete and allow them time to make additional submissions to their application.

In addition, the state says the 120-day process to act on the COPA application has not started.

The state says approval of the COPA is required before the proposed merger of Mountain States and Wellmont can proceed.

News Channel 11 asked to speak to a representative from Wellmont or Mountain States and no one was available for an interview on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission continues to strongly oppose the merger between the two largest hospital systems in the region.

The FTC says that combining to one health system would reduce the competition and negatively impact our region.

Stephanie Wilkinson with the Federal Trade Commission told News Channel 11 back in October, “Whatever happens at the state level the commission would evaluate and decide whether or not to challenge the merger or take some other action”.

The following is a statement from Tennessee Department of Health commissioner John Dreyzehner on the public advantage for northeast Tennessee:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance have asked the state for a Certificate of Public Advantage to allow a merger, which would result in less competition for health care services in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Due to the size of the region, the size of the population impacted and the involvement of two states, this is an unprecedented proposal, not only in Tennessee but across the country. The Tennessee Department of Health takes its role in this process very seriously on behalf of Tennesseans.

The applicants have requested to make additional submissions to the application and have requested that the department withdraw its decision in September deeming the application complete.

Based on the unique nature of this application, it is appropriate to accept and consider additional information and grant the applicants’ request. Therefore, the application is currently deemed not complete, and the 120-day deadline to act on the application has not yet started.


The following is a statement from Wellmont and Mountain States:

Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance received notice today that their request for additional time to supplement their application for a Certificate of Public Advantage was graciously granted by the Tennessee Department of Health.

The extension was requested by the health systems, so they can provide additional information to their application for a Tennessee Certificate of Public Advantage. Approval of the COPA is required for the proposed merger of Mountain States and Wellmont to proceed.

“Our objective is to ensure the record in both states reflects our vision for the improved health of our region and that the record strongly supports a positive outcome,” said Alan Levine, president and CEO of Mountain States. “This is so important, and we are committed to leaving no doubt about our intent. This is not just about a merger. This is about a region coming together to make strides in solving our health care challenges.”

The boards of both organizations believe the proposed merger is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle the critical health issues our region is facing, sustain our rural hospitals, expand access, protect local jobs, ensure important decisions are made by people who live and work in our region, and reinvest millions of dollars right back into our local communities.

“We have recognized from the beginning that this would be both complex and unprecedented,” said Bart Hove, president and CEO of Wellmont. “We are working with thoughtful leaders throughout our health systems, in our community and in both states in this important and deliberate process. This process with our community and both states has made our vision for this merger better.”

 

East Tennessee State University has a stake in the merger, in that they have residencies and nurse training programs at both of the health systems. The following is a message from ETSU on the latest developments:

“We recognize this is a critical decision for our region and we remain supportive of the Wellmont/Mountain States Health Alliance proposal as it provides the opportunity to improve the quality of life for the people of our region. We respect and support Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner and the leadership of both health systems as they all continue to fully examine the critical nature of this issue and the impact it could have on generations of East Tennesseans. Our institution stands ready in assisting the health systems and the state with any questions we may be able to answer for them as they relate to the potential merger.”

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