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Baptist assures continued medical services after McKenzie hospital closure

DISCUSSING – Some of the panelists at the McKenzie Health Care meeting Sept. 11 talk with each other following the meeting at the Park Theatre. From left are Priority Ambulance Service representative Eric Messer, McKenzie Regional Hospital Board chairman Keith Priestley, McKenzie Mayor Jill Holland, Congressman David Kustoff’s District Director Marianne Dunavant and Baptist CEO Jason Little.


McKenzie citizens were assured at a Community Health Care meeting Sept. 11 that their medical needs would be met despite the fact that McKenzie Regional Hospital was to close Sept. 15.

People filled the Park Theatre to learn about the medical services that will be available through McKenzie Medical Center that Baptist will continue to provide.  Baptist will take over Oct. 1.


A panel of several people spoke on the situation and then answered questions compiled by members of the audience.

Serving on the panel were County Mayor Joseph Butler, McKenzie Industrial Board chairman, Gary Simmons; McKenzie Regional Hospital Board chairman, Keith Priestley; Congressman David Kustoff’s District Director, Marianne Dunavant; Priority Ambulance Service representatives, Eric Messer and Justin Cook; State Dept. of Transportation Region 4 Community Relations officer, Nicole Lawrence; Baptist CEO Jason Little and McKenzie Medical Center Personnel, Dr. Bryan Merrick and Tracy B. Teague. Mayor Jill Holland served as master of ceremonies.

Little from Memphis, who oversees the corporation’s operation for the states of Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas, told the audience that Baptist will do its utmost to insure the best of medical care for the area.

He assured the audience that Baptist is committed to Carroll County.

“Baptist began its medical care in 1912,” he said, noting that the focus was on the mission of preaching, teaching and healing.

He said that mission continues today with Baptist being the largest hospital group in the world.

Baptist has put hospitals in rural communities. In addition to Huntingdon, Baptist has a hospital located in Union City. Little added that when Baptist places a hospital in a community the intent is for the hospital to be everything it can be.

“The hospital is not just a referral base,” he said.

Baptist came to Carroll County 35 years ago.

It will continue such services as patient diagnostic, the sleep center, and out-patient physical therapy center that will be located in the McKenzie Medical Center. Baptist will also assist with the Urgent Care Center in the Medical Center as well.

Eric Messer, a representative of Priority Ambulance, and Justin Cook, who serves as the director of Priority Ambulance in Carroll County, spoke about the service they will be providing.

Priority has been serving Huntingdon’s Baptist Hospital since 2017 with ambulance service, according to Messer.

“We have a fantastic group of EMS personnel,” he said, noting that Priority hired 24 of the 26 employees that worked for the ambulance service at the McKenzie hospital.

Priority will transport any type of patient, including TNCare and indigent care.

“We would love to take our patients to Baptist hospital in Huntingdon, but it’s the patient’s choice,” said Messer.

Cook said Priority would have ambulances in McKenzie, Bruceton and McLemoresville in addition to Huntingdon.

Priestley shed some light on why McKenzie’s hospital closed.

“There are many challenges facing health care and particularly in rural areas,” he said. Six hospitals in West Tennessee and 11 in the state have closed.”

He said the reason they are closing is from a financial standpoint.

“In the last four years, McKenzie’s hospital has lost $23 million,” he said. “The board tried to improve the facility.”

He mentioned that the emergency room was updated. Patients could see a doctor within four minutes in the ER. The OB Dept. was updated. The orthopedics department was modernized, which will continue with Baptist. An attempt was made to obtain a cardiologist.  The ambulance service was enhanced.

Between 2010 and 2014, the hospital was cited as a top performer in the area of patient care.

Priestley said there were a number of financial reasons that caused the hospital’s closure.

He said a lot of patients were TNCare patients and some were indigent.

“There were very few who had commercial health insurance, only four percent,” he said. “In addition, Tennessee didn’t expand TNCare.”

He said the financial situation had been a struggle.

“It’s been an uphill battle,” he said. “We are still fortunate to have Baptist in Huntingdon.”

 Dunavant praised Baptist because of the constant communication they’ve had during the closure process.

“We know there is a financial burden and we can’t solve everything, but we can communicate with everyone,” she said.

Lawrence said her office is communicating with the ambulance service. In case the highway had to be closed between McKenzie and Huntingdon due to weather conditions, she said the Dept. of Transportation had figured out alternative routes that the ambulance could take.

Simmons said Carroll County is fortunate to have Baptist and having McKenzie Medical Center here.


“We need to have an open mind and remain positive,” he said.

Butler said he wanted to give encouragement in the situation.

“I believe we can be leaders in rural health care,” he said. “I believe we can move forward as a family.”

Dr. Merrick said although the city lost the hospital for procedures that it gained a strong partner in Baptist.

“Baptist is not a for-profit hospital and lines up with our values and answers to God,” said Merrick. “Baptist will help with opening of the urgent care center.”

He added that he couldn’t stress enough how important it is to use Baptist in Huntingdon when possible.

Teague told about some of the services that will be provided come Oct. 1.

There are 33 providers in Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Function Studies, Counseling and Specialty Care Studies, Counseling and Specialty Care including General Surgery, Cardiology, Pediatrics, Orthopedics and Podiatry.

“Urgent Care will have extended hours in McKenzie beginning Oct. 1,” she said. “It will be Monday – Saturday from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. until 6 p.m.”

 “Recently, our community was devastated by news that our beloved hospital was closing,” said Holland “It has served us for 44 years. It was gut wrenching.”

Questions and answers were gathered from the audience with the most appropriate person among the panelists answering it.

One person wondered if there could be two locations for Baptist? Little said Baptist would continue to operate from Huntingdon and would look further to see how the needs of the people could best be met.

One question wondered why House Rep. Andy Holt was not present. Holland said he had attended one meeting concerning the hospital’s closure.

The Priority Ambulance Service representative was asked if ambulance personnel could deliver babies to which Messer said they could and had undergone training for it.

David Johnson, chaplain at the McKenzie hospital, said at the close of the program that the closing is not a death blow, but is measured by the care and heart of the citizens.

“Everything will be ok,” he said as he closed with prayer.” It’s that message of hope that we share.”

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