Monday 15th July 2024

Henry Co. Commission Approves Letter Of Intent With West Tennessee Healthcare



Photo: Commissioner Chuck Elizondo, center, serving as Commission Chairman for the first time at last night’s meeting, with County Attorney Rob Whitfield at left and County Clerk Donna Craig at right. HCMC Administrator John Tucker was on screen during the Zoom call. (Shannon McFarlin photo).


By Shannon McFarlin News Director

Paris, Tenn.–At the conclusion of an over two-hour-long meeting Monday night, the Henry County Commission voted 9-4 to approve the Letter Of Intent of a proposed lease agreement with West Tennessee Healthcare for the Henry County Medical Center.

The vote was contingent on three things: the hospital board must approve it; there must be agreement on parcels to be excluded and a good faith list of all significant contracts intended must be provided.

Voting no on the motion were Commissioners Patrick Burns, “Tater” Hayes, Marty Visser and Ralph Wiles.

The vote followed an intense question-and-answer period over Zoom with Angela Humphreys of the Bass, Berry & Sims firm of Nashville, who is representing both Henry County and Henry County Medical Center in the ongoing negotiations.

Once again, the meeting was crowded with interested persons, including hospital employees. hospital board members and members of the general public.The meeting was held at the 911 building on North Brewer St.

The meeting was the first in which County Mayor John Penn Ridgeway did not serve as Chairman of the Commission. He announced at the last meeting he would be stepping down from the role as commission chairman while continuing as County Mayor until the August election. Serving as Chairman was Commissioner Charles Elizondo,

With a deadline of June 28 looming, at issue is whether the county and hospital board will agree to lease the hospital to West Tennessee Healthcare.

At the outset of the meeting, Humphreys said the county had received a revised Letter Of Intent from West Tennessee Healthcare which includes “changes they are willing to make”, notably extending the time period to operate the hospital from 7 to 10 years and increasing the reimbursement for legal expenses from $250,000 to $350,000.

Humphreys described the agreement as a “lease to own” arrangement and said June 28 had been set as a deadline “for expiration of their offer”. West Tennessee is preparing drafts of documentation and Humphreys repeatedly said “the sooner the better” for the county to act on the revised Letter Of Intent.

Commissioner Ralph Wiles said the term “Newco” used in the Letter of Intent “sounds like a shell company”. Humphreys and Hospital Board Chairman Bruce Reed explained that the term “Newco” is a generic term utilized in the Letter Of Intent until an official name for the new entity is decided upon.

Wiles said to Humphreys, “Since you’re the healthcare guru, what would be the possibility of an employee-owned hospital?” Humphreys said she is not a guru of healthcare but that it would involve “the same type of process” and would be time-consuming.

Commissioners asked what guarantees there are that current hospital employees would be retained. Humphreys said the Letter Of Intent states West Tennessee “will offer employment to all qualified individuals within HCMC’s employed workforce..”

Commissioner Hayes said, “That’s an offer not a guarantee”.

Originally, the commission was not expected to vote on the Letter Of Intent at last night’s meeting—that vote was set for June 24; but Humphreys repeated that voting as soon as possible would be better for the negotiations. “If you could have the vote before June 24, that could be a better path,” she said.

County Attorney Rob Whitfield agreed, noting “If your intent is to move forward, it may not be prudent to delay the vote”.

In other business during the meeting:

Copies of the proposed County Budget for FY 2024-2025 was distributed which shows a 4 cent increase in property taxes to fund the budget (3 cents to general fund, one cent to solid waste). Vote and further discussion will occur at the June 24 meeting.