HUNTSVILLE — Jubilation might have been the easiest way to describe the reaction to Tuesday's news that Scott County Hospital will open on Dec. 2.
"BREAKING NEWS!!!," Shonda Crabtree, administrative assistant to Scott County Mayor Jeff Tibbals, posted on Facebook.
Scott County Chamber of Commerce executive director Stacey Kidd's voice cracked as she discussed the news.
"Scott County deserves this," Kidd said.
It was reaction to long-awaited light at the end of the tunnel. Eighteen months after the hospital closed its doors in May 2012 — upon the expiration of Mercy Health Partners' contract with Scott County — there is an official date for its reopening.
A state agency's decision to grant an emergency certificate of need to Pioneer Health on Tuesday led to the announcement of the official opening date.
Previously, the state Health Services & Development Agency had said hospital services could not be provided in Scott County until an issue of OB services at the facility was resolved. A hearing for that was not scheduled until Dec. 18.
As a result, Pioneer notified its employees — about three dozen are currently employed at the facility, with more hires expected — that they would be laid off until the issue was resolved.
Tibbals and Tony Taylor, the administrator hired by Pioneer to run the hospital, requested the Health Services & Development Agency hold the emergency hearing. They learned on Friday that an emergency hearing had been granted and would be held Tuesday.
Three members of the committee joined Tibbals, Taylor and state Rep. Kelly Keisling for Tuesday's hearing. The emergency certificate of need granted is only valid for 120 days, but with a review of Pioneer's application to begin operations at the hospital without OB ervices scheduled before the full committee on Dec. 18, resolution is expected within that three-month window. The committee on Dec. 18 can grant a certificate of need or require that Pioneer offer OB services. The former would settle the matter once and for all, while Pioneer could either appeal the latter or offer a time table for starting OB services at the hospital that would garner the state's approval.
Previously, Pioneer officials have said they expect to eventually offer OB services at the facility, but it might be months before that can happen.
When the hospital — which will be named the Pioneer Community Hospital of Scott — opens on Dec. 2, it will include a fully-functional emergency room. Pioneer, which has been granted ownership of the hospital campus by Scott County with a guarantee that the facility will be operated as a hospital for at least 10 years, initially planned to open the hospital without an ER at first, but later changed course.
At that point, the Scott County Ambulance Service — which has been transporting all patients to hospitals in LaFollette, Knoxville, Oak Ridge and Jamestown — will be able to start delivering patients to the Oneida hospital ER.
While Pioneer had initially hoped to open the hospital in October, Tuesday's announcement of a Dec. 2 opening marked the first time an official date for the hospital's opening has been nailed down.
Officials did say, however, that further delays could result if unforeseen circumstances arise.