The Williamson County Commission has again turned back an effort to sell its publicly owned hospital. Off and on for years, the panel has been considering the prospect of cashing out, but this week it rejected a proposal to put the question to a referendum vote.
Rather than a simple endorsement of county ownership, many who object to selling the medical center just don’t see the point, largely because state law is quite restrictive as to what can be done with proceeds from a public hospital. A 2006 law was even further strengthened in 2012. The money must go into a trust and state law would likely have to change to allow the money to be on education.
Commissioner Brian Beathard said it's hard to see a way that a sale would benefit the county — which badly needs revenue to fund construction of new schools.
"Not only does it not go to the county commission and go to a trust, we can't even elect the people who would control that trust. Essentially, to sell the hospital is to give it away," Beathard said before Monday night's vote.
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There's been discussion about trying to change state law but no progress.
"Until the law is changed, there is no use pursuing the sale," Commissioner Tommy Little said.
Still, others argue that the facility could be strengthened under private ownership, pointing out that two-thirds of Williamson County residents go to hospitals in Davidson County.
"I think the county-owned hospital is a fine facility, and they do a great job down there, but the people of Williamson County vote every day to go other places," said Commissioner Gregg Lawrence. "For whatever reason, they're choosing to go elsewhere."
And while the county does not subsidize Williamson Medical Center, Lawrence said it might have to in the future to keep up with the area's surging population.
"When you say this hasn't cost us a dime, I don't know that I buy that," Commissioner Todd Kaestner said. "It's going to be a topic of conversation for decades."
Kaestner says it's not a matter of whether the hospital should exist, but rather should the county own it.