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Wellmont to purchase Ky. hospital

May 9th, 2007 1:33 am by Rick Wagner

KINGSPORT - Wellmont Health System is growing into the Bluegrass State.

Wellmont, already operating in Tennessee and Virginia, is to purchase Jenkins Community Hospital in Southeast Kentucky for an undisclosed amount, Wellmont officials announced Tuesday.

If regulatory authorities approve the purchase, expected in 30 to 45 days, the hospital system plans to spend $1 million to renovate the 60-bed Letcher County facility about an hour and 20 minutes from Kingsport.

It is comparable in size to Wellmont's Lonesome Pine Hospital in Virginia and Hawkins County Memorial Hospital but marks the health system's first acquisition in Kentucky.

"The residents of Jenkins and the surrounding area have long relied on Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center and Bristol Regional Medical Center for high-level tertiary medical services," said Dr. Richard Salluzzo, president and chief executive officer of Wellmont.

Patrick Kane, senior vice president of marketing and communications, said the purchase price paid businessman Gregory Johnson would not be revealed.

"They (Wellmont facilities) have a great reputation across the whole Mountain Empire," Johnson said during a news conference at Wellmont administrative offices in Kingsport.

The competing Mountain States Health Alliance already has an air ambulance in Jenkins and has pending partnerships with Norton and Dickenson County community hospitals in Southwest Virginia, said Ed Herbert, vice president of communications and marketing for MSHA.

"Since September of 2006, Wings Air Rescue ... has operated a full-time air base in Jenkins, Ky.," Herbert said in an afternoon phone interview.

The helicopter service transports patients to Tri-Cities hospitals operated by Wellmont and MSHA.

Salluzzo said Wellmont will initiate new medical services in Jenkins and emphasize physician recruitment, bringing the "strength, stability and resources" of Wellmont "while still retaining the heart and warmth of a hometown community hospital."

The facility's 120 employees will become Wellmont employees.

"It will bring physician leadership and patient safety to July," said Sherrie Newcomb, administrator of the Jenkins hospital.

"Modern, full-service hospitals are essential components of our region's infrastructure," said Lee Shillito of Bristol, Tenn., chairman of the Wellmont board. "We plan to continue growing better, stronger and safer for you."

Kane said that in line with other hospital purchases, including a new intensive care unit at Hawkins County and a new operating room at Lonesome Pine, Wellmont plans $1 million in renovations to be bid out after regulatory approval.

Ron Prewitt, senior vice president of system operation and business development for Wellmont, said the project would include about $750,000 in work on the outside of the building and the remainder on the inside, including new elevators. Although licensed for 60 beds, Prewitt said only 25 beds are being used for acute care.

"As soon as the deal is consummated, we will be ready to put the project out to bid," Prewitt said.

Prewitt said a "significant" portion of admissions to the hospital are from Pike County, with other patients from the immediate Jenkins area and some from Southwest Virginia, including northern Wise County.

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