A physician assistant from Crossville has purchased the shuttered Cumberland River Hospital in Celina and has expressed interest in buying other struggling facilities on the Cumberland Plateau. The community is relieved, even though the hospital is far from reopening.
Clay County Mayor Dale Reagan says finding a buyer for the hospital is an answer to many prayers.
"The old saying is, 'You never miss the water until the well runs dry.' And we take for granted a lot of the things, a lot of services that we have," Reagan says. "When they’re not there anymore ... reality sets in."
Reagan says not only were 140 full and part-time jobs lost, but the lack of emergency services was already hampering efforts to recruit retirees to relocate to the scenic, lakeside community.
There’s still no timeline on reopening the hospital, which shuttered March 1. It will likely take many months to get new licensure from state and federal officials. But the buyer, physician assistant Johnny Presley, plans to start with an outpatient clinic, as soon as the end of the month. He already operates clinics in Crossville, Clarkrange and Jamestown.
The Tennessee native sees recent rural hospital closures in the state as a prime business opportunity, despite the struggles among for-profit companies that run facilities in remote areas. He’s established a new firm called Rural Hospitals & Clinics of America and bought the Celina hospital for just $200,000 from Cookeville Regional Medical Center, which paid more than $6 million in 2012.
"I might not be hardly as smart as some people or have as much money as some people, but I’ll out-work anybody," he says. "I just apply a lot of commonsense approaches."
Presley also made written offers to buy the shuttered hospital in nearby Jamestown, which the Florida-based owners have rebuffed. He now threatens to open his own emergency room in the town of 2,000 people.
At the moment, Presley has not brought on additional investors or partners, though he hopes to grow his business quickly.
"It's a one-man show," he says. "It's a passion and a calling that I feel like I need to do."