But Hawkins County Attorney James O. Phillips III, in an email sent to Hawkins County Mayor Jim Lee, says a hospital authority can't be created in Hawkins County.
"With regard to the aforesaid, I have reviewed TCA (Tennessee Code Annotated) 7-57-201 et seq. and it is my opinion that Hawkins County does not have the statutory authority to form a Hospital Authority as based on the following: TCA 7-57-103(3) defines a 'creating municipality' as a city or metropolitan government having a population of not less than 200,000 according to the 1970 federal census or subsequent census as well as any county in which such city shall be situated. Since there is no city in Hawkins County that has a population of 200,000 it appears that it cannot create a Hospital Authority under this cited code," Phillips noted.
Organizers of the public meeting were "Rally in the Valley" leaders Dani Cook and Gary Frady, who have for a number of months have been part of a protest opposing the downgrade of Neonatal Intensive Care and Level One Trauma services at Holston Valley Medical Center. The protesters have occupied the public right of way outside the hospital.
"We already have a (Ballad Health) merger, and we already have a medical monopoly," Cook told the audience of about 50 people at the meeting. "A hospital authority is not about challenging that merger. It's about managing that monopoly in a manner that is more transparent and more accountable to the people."
Cook passed out a document that said the region's counties could generate a population of 200,000.
The hospital authority, said Cook, would replace the Ballad Health Board of Directors.
Most audience members raised their hands in support of a hospital authority and shared negative billing experiences since the merger.
"Do you really think we're in a health care crisis? I do," Cook noted.
The plan moving forward, according to Cook, is to get county commissions and municipalities to pass resolutions supporting the hospital authority and engage state lawmakers.
The Wellmont-Mountain States merger that created Ballad Health is governed in Tennessee by the Tennessee Department of Health and in Virginia by the Virginia Department of Health.
Ballad Health declined to comment for this story.