By Scott Robertson
The board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce serving Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County, in a special called meeting Monday, unanimously agreed to issue a statement urging the Wellmont Health System board to vote to merge Wellmont with Mountain States Health Alliance.
Lottie Ryans, chair of the chamber board, said the board reached the accord after reviewing input from recent discussions with executives with both Mountain States and Wellmont. “We looked at the current state of health care delivery system, impact of the Affordable Care Act, reduced Medicare-Medicaid payments, and continued growth of spending for health care that citizens face,” Ryans said. “We believe local governance allows the focus to be on health issues impacting our region.”
Vince Hickam, chair of the Chamber Foundation board, said “the benefits of joining the two systems provides greater access to health care for our citizens. Local governance keeps decisions about health care and the well-being of our citizens in the hands of a board that lives, works, and plays here.”
Gary Mabrey, chamber president/CEO, added, “we see the repurposing of facilities, enhanced recruiting of subspecialties, physicians who want to practice as well as do research, and strengthening of ETSU’s College of Public & Allied Health and all of its health sciences as potential outcomes of this merger.” Mabrey went on to say that health care degreed programs at Milligan, Northeast State and other higher education institutions would benefit from the merger.
Hickam, Ryans, and Mabrey said in a statement released to local media Tuesday afternoon that costs of health care for business were of keen interest to the Chamber. Ryans said “merging the two systems is not a ‘monopoly’ when Tennessee’s Certificate of Public Advantage (COPA) is used to guide the merger, where pricing would be established based on the terms of the COPA.”
Ryans noted that the Wellmont board has a difficult decision to make as it continues its due diligence. “We are fortunate to have volunteers and professionals on both the Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont boards who strive for high levels of excellence in delivering health care to the citizens of this region.”