For the first time in more than 40 years, the City of Jenkins is being left without a hospital to call its own. But thanks to Appalachian Regional Healthcare Inc., the town will still have a full-service medical clinic.
Kingsport-based Wellmont Health System announced last week it will no longer operate 25-bed Jenkins Community Hospital and will sell the facility’s real estate, equipment and fixed assets to ARH effective April 30.
ARH said it will continue to offer primary care physician services at Jenkins, but will use the 82-bed Whitesburg ARH for patients who need hospitalization.
Since acquiring the Jenkins hospital in 2007, Wellmont recruited new physicians, installed updated equipment and spent at least $1 million renovating portions of the hospital. Despite those efforts, the hospital has been unable to attract new patients. Over the past year, the facility has averaged just three inpatients per day.
According to the American Hospital Directory, Jenkins Community Hospital had an operating loss of $1.8 million and a net loss of $2.8 million on $7.2 million in net revenue for the year ending June 30, 2008.
Still, Wellmont’s decision to sell the Jenkins hospital came as a surprise to Jenkins Mayor D. Charles Dixon and others in the community.
"I was surprised," said Dixon, who is also a member of Jenkins Community’s local advisory board. "I don’t know why in the world a company would spend money like that and just quit. It’s a first class facility."
Dixon said residents now are worried that proper emergency services won’t be available to serve the needs of the city’s predominantly elderly population.
"I think the concern now is the emergency room closing," said Dixon. "That’s the concern. Of course, people feel real blessed the clinic is going to stay open with extended hours."
Mike Snow, Wellmont’s president and chief executive officer, said the sale to ARH will ensure the community of Jenkins continues to have a local healthcare provider and local healthcare services.
"This is the best fit for both the Jenkins community and our health system," Snow said. "Although the facility’s significant operating losses have made it impossible to sustain a viable hospital in Jenkins, we were committed to identifying a buyer that would continue to provide health care to the community. Appalachian Regional Healthcare is that healthcare organization."
Snow said that ARH will extend employment offers to approximately 35 of the current employees at Jenkins, and that Wellmont will provide severance agreements to the remaining workers.
Whitesburg ARH Community CEO Dena Sparkman said the Jenkins clinic "won’t be an acute care hospital and it won’t be a 24-hour a day emergency room, but we really hope it will be a clinical operation the community will embrace and use and see as a positive reflection in that community."
Sparkman said initial plans call for the clinic to operate out of the space now being used by Jenkins Community’s emergency room.
"We intend to have radiology on site," she said. "Having x-ray on site allows us to do a little more."
Sparkman said she and other ARH officials are still looking at what will be offered at the Jenkins clinic and will have more details within the coming weeks. "It takes time to assess what services should still be there and what ARH can provide," said Sparkman. "I’m really excited about things we could do."
With Jenkins Community averaging only three inpatients per day, Sparkman said "some changes had to occur."
"I just think it is fortunate that ARH was able to step in and still retain some clinical services in that community," she said.
The Jenkins hospital was founded by Dr. Earnest Musgrave in the mid-1960’s. Sparkman said it’s only natural that people have an emotional attachment to a facility that’s been around that long.
"People had their babies there," she said. "Their mothers died there. I do respect the emotional attachment."
Jerry W. Haynes, ARH president and chief executive officer, noted that ARH has served the Letcher County community for more than 50 years at the Whitesburg ARH and "has consistently been recognized for its quality and commitment to excellent patient care." He said Jenkins residents can expect the same level of service.
"We are excited that the Jenkins community will now be a part of the ARH system and its long-term plans for the future of health care in eastern Kentucky," said Haynes.
ARH also announced that it will open a separate primary physician practice in Elkhorn City.