Tonight, neighbors in Clay County turn to News4 for help.

Cumberland River Hospital in Celina will close its doors on March 1.

It's just one of several rural hospitals in Tennessee having to shut down due to rising healthcare costs.

Once the hospital closes, people will have to go anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes away to get to the next closest hospital. Many say, that can mean the difference between life and death.

“It is unconscionable, it is unmoral, unethical,” Clay County resident Steve Gardner said.,

Gardner moved to Clay County five years ago. A recent retiree, he wanted to settle in a rural community with a hospital nearby.

“Two years ago, my wife had a collapsed lung. If we were unable, if I was unable to have brought her here… she probably… she probably wouldn't be alive today,” an emotional Gardner said. “That's a life.”

Natalie Boone serves is an EMT & Ambulance driver. Boone says in 2018, nearly 600 patients were transported to Cumberland River Hospital. The majority are heart attack and stroke victims.

“We stand by this hospital. We support them 110 percent,” Boone said. “Those folks don't always have that extra 25 to 30 minutes to get to another facility to be stabilized. There's a lot of folks walking around in this county today because we were able to get folks to this hospital to be stabilized before being transferred on to another facility.”

Carol Abney is a lifelong Clay County resident. “The whole community is devastated,” she said. “We've all used this hospital many times. Expanding Medicaid would help a ton.”

Both the city and county mayor say, they've been in constant contact with lawmakers at the state-house and in Washington D.C.

The hospital is owned by Cookeville Regional Medical Center. Its CEO said in a statement, they're still hoping to sell the facility - and that several entities have expressed interest.

100 of the hospital's 146 employees are full time, and will get severance.

State Representative John Mark Windle represents neighboring Jackson County. Windle says Governor Bill Lee should sit down with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to come up with a “market-based” approach to healthcare in Tennessee.

Windle cites a bill Pence crafted when he was Governor of Indiana that provided care for 400,000 people.

“It's a crisis, and I hope we're going to take a sober look at it,” Windle said. “I think Tennesseans should be aware that, if rural Tennessee is not healthy - both economically and physically - then that's a problem for all Tennesseans.”

Windle, a member of the House finance, ways & means committee believes Medicaid expansion could help ease the burden rural healthcare facilities are facing.

News4 reached out to Governor Bill Lee's office for comment, but did not hear back.

Copyright 2019 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


Edward Burch joined News4 at a reporter in December 2016. Edward currently covers growth stories in Nashville and Middle Tennessee.

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