LAUDERDALE COUNTY, TN (WMC) - The fight to keep a struggling hospital open in Lauderdale County may make its way to Memphis.
Attorneys for Lauderdale Community Hospital are now asking a federal judge to take the case.
Administrators with a struggling Mid-South hospital appeared in chancery court Tuesday, and the hearing lasted only a few short minutes.
Lauderdale Community Hospital in Ripley, Tennessee, has been struggling with payroll issues and owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes.
A bank is asking the court to appoint a receiver, or a third independent party, to manage the finances for the hospital.
The city of Ripley and Lauderdale County Trustee's Office said Lauderdale Community Hospital is three years behind on property taxes and owes more than $350,000.
In late November, the hospital laid off staff and closed its cafeteria.
Last months, nurses and other hospital employees said they weren’t paid on time. They received their paychecks a week late, and they said the hospital has barely enough supplies to function and staffing is critically low.
The hospital’s CEO said they are struggling because of patient volumes dropping and declining reimbursements.
“I wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for this hospital,” said former Ripley mayor Richard Douglas.
Douglas was one of the handful of community members who came to Tuesday’s hearing and said the ER staff at Lauderdale Community Hospital saved his life.
“I had a heart attack two years ago and they brought me back three times in the hospital,” Douglas said.
Hospital employees and county mayor Maurice Gaines' office held a prayer service Monday over the future of the hospital.
Last week a hospital creditor brought its concerns to chancery court, asking Chancellor Martha Brasfield to appoint a receiver to manage and resolve the operational issues of the hospital.
Tuesday, hospital attorneys said they are asking for the case to be heard in federal court because hospital ownership, Empower HMS, is from out of state.
Brasfield’s temporary restraining order remains in effect, barring the hospital from spending funds outside the course of business.
Since December, staff members have indicated the hospital was behind on its pay to doctors and employee benefits like health insurance weren’t being paid.
The hospital also owes more than $350,000 in city and county taxes.
“We cannot afford to lose this hospital,” Douglas said.
Douglas said the situation for Ripley is life and death. If the hospital closes, the closest emergency room is nearly 20 miles south in Covington.
“If you don’t have an ER or hospital you can go to, you’re going to die,” Douglas said.
The county's mayor said from what they are hearing the hospital will stay open.
They should have a better idea of if this matter will be heard in federal court in 10 to 20 days.