Hospice of Chattanooga has filed notice in Nashville that it will continue fighting an effort by Dr. Deanna Duncan to open a rival hospice agency in Chattanooga.
Jim Christoffersen, general counsel for the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency, said the case will now be assigned to an administrative law judge in the Secretary of State's office.
He said a trial of the case should be held within 180 days, but it could be longer. After the contested case hearing, the judge will have two months in which to issue a finding.
Attorney Christoffersen said the parties could abide by the findings of the administrative law judge or appeal back to the board, which voted 7-3 in Dr. Duncan's favor on June 27.
He said the board could opt to decline to hold a rehearing or could grant a new hearing. An appeal of that decision could go to Chancery Court in Davidson County.
The attorney said Dr. Duncan has been issued a certificate of need for her Hearth LLC and is able to operate "unless it is voided."
Dr. Duncan said Thursday, "To my knowledge, there has never been a Tennessee hospice CON (certificate of need) overturned by appeal and the filing by Hospice of Chattanooga does not stop my passion for doing my life's work in my hometown."
She added, "I am simply shocked that the HOC board would condone a costly legal battle to keep me from serving my community."
Garry Mac, spokesman for Hospice of Chattanooga, said, "There is no “battle” or “fight”. Quite simply, some of the agencies (including Hospice of Chattanooga) who opposed Hearth LLC’s application have concerns. Four months ago the board members of the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency, using the approved “need” data, denied another for-profit company’s application, saying there was no need for a new hospice provider here. Then the board seemingly overlooked their own state guidelines and previous ruling in approving this most recent application by Hearth LLC. Some feel this is a bad precedent for the state of Tennessee.
"I think everyone feels it is reasonable to at least have a review of how and why one application would be denied and yet the other be approved with no demonstrated change in this service area over those four months. That’s what the appeals process is for, so Hospice of Chattanooga joined in. My understanding is that this process could take as much as a year to play out, but there was a deadline to notify the state of any intent to appeal so we met it.
"As for Dr. Duncan’s new venture, there is nothing about this appeal process that keeps her from being in business right now."
Hospice of Chattanooga, shortly after losing the vote in Nashville, announced a round of layoffs and tightening of operations, including eliminated four positions in their 24-hour call center. HOC earlier discontinued using Kingwood Pharmacy in East Ridge for $1.4 million in annual drugs and medical supplies.
The non-profit agency has the bulk of Hospice patients in the Chattanooga area.
Dr. Duncan was a physician with Hospice of Chattanooga for seven years. She left soon after Clark Taylor, former Memorial Hospital CEO, took over in early 2010.
Hospice of Chattanooga board members are Tony D’Andrea, Jr., Rick Govan, Peter Hetzler, D. Seth Holliday, Dr. Les Kertay, Dr. Phyllis Miller, Helen Pinkerton, Cyndy Schmidt, Darrin Wolfe, Robert Main, Ken Conner, Dr. Robert Bowers and Christine Smith.