Scott County Mayor Jeff Tibbals (right) greets Tennessee Governor Bill Lee during the governor’s visit to Huntsville on July 10, 2019 | Sarah Dunlap/IH

HUNTSVILLE — Scott County Mayor Jeff Tibbals is among 15 people from across the state named to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s Health Care Modernization Task Force, it was announced last week.

Finance & Administration Commissioner Stuart McWhorter announced the appointments on October 8, saying that the task force will host public discussions with a goal of providing options for consideration to address the state’s major health care issues.

McWhorter will co-chair the task force with Bill Carpenter, former chairman and CEO of LifePoint Health, a Brentwood company that operates  several hospitals throughout the state.

Also on the task force are eight lawmakers, including Ferrell Haile, Bo Watson, Paul Bailey, Raumesh Akbari, Pat Marsh, Robin Smith, Ron Travis and John DeBerry Jr.

Lee said the idea is to improve health care in the Volunteer State.

“Working together, with patients, providers and payers, we can establish Tennessee as a world-class health care market for our people,” the governor said. 

Specifically, the task force will focus on improving the lives of Tennesseans who lack access to quality health care.

“Based on discussions with Tennesseans, the largest health care issue across the state is access — and that takes many forms, from a lack of health care providers to lack of transportation,” McWhorter said. “Our hope is that Tennesseans will come together around the task force to discuss potential solutions to immediate problems as well as long-term issues.”

In addition to McWhorter, Carpenter and the group of lawmakers on the task force, the remaining 15 members are something of a who’s who in Tennessee’s health care industry. Tibbals stands out because he is the only county or municipal elected official on the task force.

Other members include Dr. Mike Carrigan of Premier Medical Group, Dr. James Bailey of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center; Dr. Brian DeBusk of Lincoln Memorial University; Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, president of Meharry Medical College; Melanie Keller, CEO of Meritan Inc.; Mary Kiger, executive director of the Tennessee Charitable Care Network; Kathie Krause, chief nursing officer at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital; Shantelle Leatherwood, CEO of Christ Community Health Services; Alan Levine, president and CEO of Ballad Health; family physician Dr. Jim King; Kim Parker of Pathways Behavioral Health Services; Dr. Michael Ugwueke, president and CEO of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare; Dr. Andrea Willis, chief medical officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield Tennessee; and Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health.

While Tibbals is alone on the task force in his status as an elected county official without direct ties to the health care industry, he has insight on the struggles of rural hospitals after overseeing negotiations between Scott County and potential suitors to operate the community’s hospital after St. Mary’s exited its contract with the county during Tibbals’ first term as mayor. Ultimately, the county sold the hospital to Pioneer Health Services of Magee, Miss. That company later declared bankruptcy, and the local hospital was sold to Florida-based diagnostics firm Rennova Health, which has since purchased the hospitals in Jamestown and Jellico.

Tibbals has also been vocal about the health care concerns of rural Tennessee, including at the governor’s Rural Summit earlier this year. His sister, Tracey Stansberry, of Tennessee Plateau Oncology, penned a recent op-ed in The Tennessean newspaper, imploring the state to take action to help save rural hospitals.

As a county mayor in one of the state’s most rural counties, and also one where access to health care is an issue, Tibbals will likely be well positioned to provide feedback on the governor’s proposals for rural health care using first-hand experience that his colleagues on the task force aren’t able to provide.