After weeks of relatively normal operations at Big South Fork Medical Center, signs of trouble began to emerge at the hospital on Monday, with new admissions reportedly ceasing and patients who had already been admitted being moved to the emergency room and intensive care unit due to a shortage of nursing staff on the floor. Sources told the Independent Herald that several employees were not showing up for their shifts because payroll had been delayed.

The hospital had not been placed on diversion as of lunchtime Tuesday; the emergency room continued to operate as normal.

Corporate spokespersons for Rennova Health, BSFMC’s parent company, did not respond to requests for comment.

The troubles actually began several weeks ago, when Rennova’s health care coverage plan for employees at both BSFMC and its sister facility, Jellico Community Hospital, was terminated. Recent media reports detailed that employees in Jellico had their insurance plans canceled, but their share of the health care coverage premiums were still being withheld from their paychecks for a period of time.

Employees at Big South Fork Medical Center have told the IH that the same was true with the local hospital. One employee said that the insurance plan was canceled July 1, but employees were not aware of that until September — which is when, they said, Rennova stopped withholding their share of the premiums from their paychecks. 

Rennova has promised employees that those premiums will be repaid. However, an employee told the IH late Monday that, as of yet, payment has not been made.

The more recent development was when payroll was delayed last week. Typically, BSFMC employees are paid every other week. However, September 20’s payroll had still not been made at the facility at the close of business on Monday, September 23.

The same issue has reportedly been playing out at Jellico Community Hospital. A source said that some employees at Jellico received their paychecks on Friday, while the remaining employees received their checks on Tuesday morning.

At BSFMC, however, there was still no word on payroll Tuesday morning, and employees who have spoken to the IH are becoming increasingly restless, with the uncertainty convincing several not to report for work on Monday.

Payroll was last delayed at BSFMC in early June. That time, all staff members continued to show up for their shifts. This time around, there seems to be more uncertainty. Employees who spoke to the IH on condition of anonymity in June said the hospital’s administrative team was in contact, blaming the delay on a banking transaction. This time around, employees have said, there has been no communication.

“The company isn’t giving us any information as to why we haven’t been paid,” one employee said. “The biggest disappointment is the lack of communication. If they’d just communicate with the employees and stop leaving us in the dark…”

The situation grew dire on Monday, when one employee said bluntly: “Staff aren’t showing up due to non-payment and patients can’t be admitted because the staff aren’t there to take care of them. We’re in trouble.”

The hospital’s ER is still fully staffed, an employee told the IH. On Monday, the hospital’s remaining patients were moved to the ER for care due to a shortage of nursing staff on the floor.

Patients remained in the ER-ICU area on Tuesday morning, a source said, as the MedSurge unit remained mostly vacant.

“We have not had an update from corporate,” an employee told the IH.

“We are all just at our wits end not knowing what to do. Most (of the staff) stay because they are dedicated to our community, coworkers, and our little hospital. (But) everyone is tired of being in the dark.”

One employee said there is a fear that the hospital will ultimately be placed on diversion due to a lack of staff. That’s an especially large concern this week because Brimstone’s Paragon event is scheduled for this weekend. ATV-related accidents on the off-road trails typically send multiple patients to the local hospital’s ER during the event weekends.

“Our community desperately needs the hospital to make it,” an employee said. “We not only see patients from Scott County but receive ambulances from McCreary and Morgan counties.” 

The IH has reached out to Rennova Health, which owns Big South Fork Medical Center and Jellico Community Hospital, for comment. The Florida-based company closed Fentress County Regional Medical Center earlier this year after losing its Medicare license due to myriad financial problems at the Jamestown facility. However, it has since said that it is in the process of reopening the hospital, and has received a preliminary nod of approval for its Medicare license to be reinstated. Rennova’s CEO, Seamus Lagan, is involved in a defamation lawsuit that he filed against state lawmaker John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, after Windle harshly condemned Lagan and Rennova for the ultimate closure of Jamestown Regional. Windle referred to Lagan as “an Irish gangster,” called him a “thief,” and demanded an investigation.