By Elaine Owen, Editor ~~
Copper Basin Medical Center (CBMC) ceased hospital operations effective Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017 at 7:00 a.m. after serving the Copper Basin and the surrounding East Polk County communities of Copperhill, Ducktown, Turtletown (Tenn.) and McCaysville (Ga.) for more than 60 years. No hospital services including inpatient, outpatient, diagnostic laboratory, or emergency care is available.
But the Medical Park in front of the Medical Center is still open and welcoming patients every day. One, Dr Mahmood Siddiqui’s Family Clinic has hundreds of patients, some for more than two decades. He wonders about the future—not so much for himself—but for his patients who depend on him.
His concern was evident when we talked last week.
“Some of my patients tell me they are happy that I am staying…that they won’t have to find another doctor, but honestly, I don’t know from day-to-day how long I’ll be here,” he said.
“We would like to stay here. When the hospital closed, we weren’t really sure how things would go, where things would be…I was looking to maybe move into Fannin County because we didn’t know if Copper Basin would be open; if the county (Polk) would keep it or someone would buy it.
“But the more I hear about it now I think we will probably get to stay here. I don’t know who’s really in charge. Is it the county or the city (Ducktown)? I would like to know that,” he added.
Bea Tallent, who is Chairman of the Copper Basin Hospital District Board of Directors, said, “I know the county says they own the Hospital because they paid off the loan, but I dispute that. I know what the charter says. The charter was issued to the District Board from the Copper Company and it says that everything belongs to the community. And the District Board is supposed to oversee that. I have never seen a deed—so I guess we really still don’t know. But if they are foreclosing or selling the building, shouldn’t there be something in writing and shouldn’t they be dealing with the District Board?”
What we do know is that Copper Basin Hospital is not open, and some former employees are still waiting to be paid. We know that Polk County has control of the hospital because they paid off a (reported $600,000) loan to Community Bank for the Hospital.
Dr. Siddiqui said he met with the county executive board three months ago to try to find out what was planned, whether he would have to move his practice or could continue at the Hospital Medical Park.
“I really would like to stay, and I know Dr. Uhlik (another practitioner in Building C in the Park) would prefer to stay here. But we have not been asked to stay—I know there is talk that we have but no offer has been made for me to buy this place. But that is what I would prefer. I do not want to leave my patients. And I know that Mike (Darnell, North Georgia Physical Therapy) wants to stay—he’s been here 15 years.”
Dr. Siddiqui had good things to say about Fannin Regional
Hospital, who has seen an increase in patients since Copper Basin closed.
“Fannin Regional is doing a good job—with the flu and pneumonia going around…and I know they have taken care of many of our patients. But it would be nice to have something here, in our community, maybe not on a scale of a hospital, but a clinic.
“For about a month now, we have been doing labs in the office. We have given space to a company called LabCorp. There’s no financial ties for us. They do this for our patients, they draw blood and give us the results. It’s something to help the community.
“We need more services, like X-Ray, and ultrasounds. And we need to keep our subspecialties—there’s no financial gain for a practitioner to take off a day and come here—but some still do because they love their patients and want to take care of them. We want to let the community know that we are still here and we’re seeing patients every day. We don’t want to leave Copper Basin and start all over again. We want to keep seeing our patients and helping them. But we need some clarity. We need to know what’s happening so we can plan, too.”
Some of the questions Dr. Siddiqui would like to see answered are if the county has the authority to sell the hospital, or the authority to offer the remaining three practitioners an opportunity to buy or rent their buildings and keep their practices at the medical complex.
Dr. Siddiqui maintains that “We should all be working together. We should be on the same page. For me, I am
content to just continue my practice here and take care of my patients. After 24 years, I would prefer not to have to start over, so I hope I can stay here.”
The next Polk County Commissioners meeting is Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Ducktown Community Center. At press time, an agenda was not available, but many Copper Basin residents and the practitioners at Copper Basin Medical Park are hoping they will get some answers.
Dr. Siddiqui’s Family Clinic is open Monday through Thursday, 8 to 5 and Friday until noon. It is located at 144 Medical Center Dr. Ste B, Copperhill, TN 37317. Call (423) 496-9214 for appointments. All insurance is accepted.