Houston County's struggling hospital has a new owner starting Aug. 1

Houston County Community Hospital
Posted at 6:05 PM, Jul 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-10 22:33:02-04

ERIN, Tenn. (WTVF) — Since 2010, at least 13 hospitals in rural areas of Tennessee have closed, forcing residents in those communities to drive long distances to seek basic medical treatment.

There was almost a 14th hospital located in Houston County, but now, help appears to be on the way.

If you know the rich history of Erin, Tennessee, you know they place a lot of stock in the luck of the Irish.

"We are very fortunate, very lucky," said County Mayor James Bridges.

That's because, when the community's only medical center, the Houston County Community Hospital, fell down on it's luck — a solution came to the county seemingly out of nowhere.

"We were very close to having to just shut it down. There was literally no money to put into it," said Bridges, who is running for re-election next week. "They actually approached us," added Bridges.

The incoming owners — Braden Health — took NewsChannel 5 on a tour of the struggling medical center.

"When Braden Health came in, we pulled a ton of equipment from the facility," said Kyle Kopec, the CCO for the Florida-based healthcare company. "This lab equipment that’s held together with tape is 24 years old."

The tour seemed to have a reoccurring theme, starting with the old X-Ray machine that still ran on a floppy disk.

"The only person who’s certified to remove this machine has to be flown in from Brazil," Kopec said.

Houston County Community Hospital
Kyle Kupec of Braden Health shows us the out-dated CT Scanner at the Houston County Community Hospital

Kopec also gave NewsChannel 5 a glimpse of the aging CT Scanner that seems to quit randomly without rhyme or reason.

"It’s not supposed to be spinning," he said. "This machine is outdated, old, broken, not really suitable for patient care."

The facility is so outdated a registered nurse on staff at HCCH told NewsChannel 5 that it reminds him of when he worked as a combat medic.

"I mean, without getting gunshots, yes," said John Grantham, a registered nurse. "The lack of supplies, making do with what you have, doing the best you can."

And yet, Kopec and his team at Braden Health will own all of this effective Aug. 1. As of right now — the hospital is still owned by the Houston County government. They purchased the hospital back in 2013, merely to save it from closing.

As a part of a deal approved by the Tennessee Attorney General's Office, Braden Healthcare purchased the facility for just $20,000. That's controversial to some Houston County residents. But as a part of the agreement, they will invest millions in renovations.

"We know we can make a difference," said Kopec. "All of us are from rural areas, we’ve experienced what it’s like without access to healthcare services, we’ve lost friends, we’ve lost family members, and we know how to fix it."

Kopec insists that the deal won't make them rich.

"We’re not going to make a 30% margin on this, we know we can make a healthy 5%, and that 5% can really allow us to invest it back in the facility itself," he said.

Maybe, with a little luck of the Irish, the healthcare company can revive the hospital once and for all.

"Our actions are gonna speak a whole lot louder than our words," said Kopec.

Braden Health has purchased other rural hospitals in Tennessee, including in Haywood and Decatur Counties. The company says the Houston County Community Hospital will remain open, as they work on renovations for the next two years.