The Coffee County Commission passed a resolution at its April meeting to consolidate the operations of the Coffee County Health Department. The Department of Health will close the Manchester clinic to move staff and staff to the Tullahoma clinic until a new multi-million dollar facility can be built on county land in the joint industrial park.
The resolution passed 12-6 with commissioners Helen Debellis, Jimmy Hollandsworth, Claude Morse, RoseAnne Smith, Mike Ray and Missy DeFord voting no. Commissioners Ashley Kraft, Joey Hobbs and Lynn Sebourn were absent.
Debellis expressed opposition to consolidation at this point, but noted that she supports building a new centralized facility.
“Do we really want to make it difficult for Manchester to go all the way to Tullahoma?” she asked.
Mayor Gary Cordell said it was put on the table at the last meeting when it was deferred to Capital Outlay, citing staffing shortages as the reason for the consolidation.
Debellis said he received calls from voters worried about not having a central location and presented data to the commission indicating Manchester is growing faster than Tullahoma.
Another issue raised was the size of the Manchester clinic and its need for repairs. The Tullahoma clinic is also in need of repairs, and at the Capital Outlay meeting a figure of $12,000 was dumped to repair a leak in the roof, according to Capital Outlay Chairman Commissioner Dennis Hunt.
Much of the parking lot at the Tullahoma facility will be acquired by TDOT as part of a Highway 55 road project.
During the discussion, Americorp Vista volunteer Alondra Ramirez addressed the panel regarding the potential difficulties some of the population may face with the move.
“I work with the immigrant population and teach English as a second language,” Ramirez said. “I have a feeling this is going to affect many low-income families in Coffee County.”
Ramirez said many of his students and clients who live near the Westwood campus walk to his classes. Those families without reliable transportation, she said, could have problems accessing the health care they need.
“It really breaks my heart,” she said, proposing a shuttle program to transport people to and from the Tullahoma clinic.
Commissioner Bobby Bryan noted that Coffee County Public Transportation provides transportation with South Central Tennessee Area Transportation Services (SCATS). Ramirez asked if the department has translators to help overcome language barriers, and Coffee County Health Department Director Pam Browning said her facility has a part-time translator. Bryan praised Ramirez for speaking to the commission about his concerns.
Commissioner Mike Ray then asked how temporary the temporary move to Tullahoma would be.
“It’s a matter of access and availability. We want to build a consolidated and centralized place. We have no guarantee as to when this will happen. We don’t have funds set aside for that. We don’t have any grants given to us,” Ray said.
“I believe it is our duty to provide service to our citizens for the taxes they pay… We have an obligation to every citizen, whether they live in Beechgrove, Manchester or Tullahoma, who ‘he has access and equal access, especially to health care,’ he said. added.
Ray said that during his teaching career he had seen many families without adequate health care.
“Please don’t think of your benefits, think of theirs,” Ray said.
Commissioner Bobby Bryan said the new facility can be built “without an extra dollar for Coffee County ratepayers.”
Citing figures present at a budget and finance committee meeting, Bryan detailed that the 14,000 square foot facility, for $4.5 million. He said $2,598,300 has been committed to the project by the state. He projected that $1,137,500 could be used from ARP Covid aid. To cover the remaining $814,000, the National Road Widening Project will pay $478,000 to acquire the road and additional funds will come from the sale of the two clinics.
“There won’t be a dollar cost to Coffee County ratepayers to build this facility,” Bryan said.
Morse asked what the construction timeline for the new facility was.
“We don’t know,” Cordell said, noting the ARP funds are expected to be spent by December 2026.