Rural Tennessee hospital tells the world why it needs to stay open

Counties in Crisis

HUMPHREYS COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — The closing of rural hospitals in Tennessee is a lingering issue for local, state and federal lawmakers with fears more hospitals may soon shut their doors.

Since 2010, eleven rural hospital have closed in Tennessee with many of them in the last few years.

Waverly’s Three Rivers Hospital which has been in Humphreys County since 1962 is one of those places with an uncertain future.

The question about whether not it remains open affects just about everyone in this county just east of the Tennessee River 80-miles from Nashville.

On a recent December day, we met Terry Moore inside the Three Rivers Hospital emergency room.

“That’s my guardian angel,” he told us pointing at the hospital’s chief nurse Alana Peters.

She was on duty at the hospital when Terry drove himself there with chest pains in January of this year.

“In layman’s terms, I was dead,” says Terry. “I could not have made another half mile or mile anywhere.”

The retired 62-year-old Moore suffered what’s called a “widow maker” heart attack.

He will tell anyone how the rural hospital in Waverly kept him alive until he was flown by chopper to Nashville for further life-saving treatment.

“I am here because of you guys,” he tells Alana and other members of the hospital staff.

The facility’s CEO, Freda Russell, points to people like Terry as among the many reasons why Three Rivers Hospital is a literally a lifesaver, but with that uncertain future.

“My fear is that more rural hospitals may close and we may be one of them,” says the CEO. “That is my fear.”

Its personal as well for Freda Russell who has been at Three Rivers since 2001.

“This hospital is near and dear to my heart (and) my elderly parents live in another rural county and I don’t want to see these hospitals close,” added Russell. “I want to see something in these communities that’s going to be there for people and patients that we serve and for my family.”

The CEO and her staff take pride that the small rural hospital has some of the same equipment as its city counterparts.

“We are not technology starved like a lot of smaller facilities,” says Three Rivers radiology manager Randy Stewart. “Most of our stuff is really, really good up-to-date equipment.”

But on this day in early December, the CEO told us that all but three of the hospital’s beds were empty.

Its a major problem for hospitals in rural areas where patients who can pay the most often end up in large urban hospitals.

CEO Russell has looked for help from Washington–where she testified before a Congressional committee–and from Tennessee’s Capitol Hill along with larger health care groups.

“We have tried to partner with larger facilities,” adds Russell. “We would not be profitable for them.”

Heart attack survivor Terry Moore scoffs at the profit motives for health care groups.

“They want to look at their little numbers, but what is my life worth?” asks Moore.

Hospitals like Three Rivers are also among the biggest employers in towns like Waverly.

if the hospital closes, the facility’s CEO says 150-people will lose their jobs.

CEO Russell is not without hope for hospitals like hers.

Hope that one day there might be a better payment reimbursement system from the complexities of Medicaid and health insurance.

She also looking to recommendations from state-paid consultants on what efficiencies might be implemented to save money.

Above all, her hope comes from what she says the Waverly hospital already is.

“Its a good little hospital,” said Russell at the end of our tour.

But will that be good enough to survive?

Many rural communities across Tennessee are struggling to move forward. News 2 investigates “Counties in crisis” with special reports all day Thursday in every newscast. Click here to read more.

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