CFMT Grantee: Cookeville Hospital Shoulders Patient Costs for Tornado Victims

UPDATED 03/01: The following story includes original reporting, as well as updated information provided by CFMT and Cookeville Regional Charitable Foundation’s executive director, John Bell.

The Cookeville Regional Charitable Foundation was established in 2005 as a separately governed, nonprofit affiliate of Cookeville Regional Medical Center committed to bettering our community.

Recognized nationally by several organizations for its patient care over the past several years, city-owned Cookeville Regional Medical Center is proud to be the regional referral medical center for the Upper Cumberland region in Tennessee. It is rare that a community hospital its size offers such specialty services as interventional cardiology, cardiovascular/thoracic surgery, inpatient physical rehabilitation, robotic surgery, neurosurgery, neurology, critical care and complex cancer treatment at a high level of quality. CRMC is financial independent and doesn’t receive any tax dollars for its operation.

The Cookeville Regional Charitable Foundation has received $135,000 in grants thus far from the Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to support the relief efforts in the aftermath of the 2020 Middle Tennessee tornadoes.

Cookeville Regional Charitable Foundation has received $135,000 in grants to support relief efforts, including direct financial assistance to individuals and families who suffered the greatest losses due to the tornadoes.

You’ll receive no bill from us.

Such was the message from Scott Ramey, Chief Financial Officer at Cookeville Regional Medical Center (CRMC), after the hospital treated 82 patients for tornado-related injuries in the first hours and days after the Putnam County city was strafed by a violent EF-4 tornado in the early hours of March 3.

“We’re going to bill insurance and accept the insurance payment as payment in full,” Ramey told the Herald-Citizen in Cookeville on March 5. “None of the patients will get a bill from us.”

Debris Removal continued for weeks past the March 3 tornadoes. Photo courtesy City of Cookeville TN and Ricky Shelton, Mayor.

It was the strongest-rated tornado nationwide in nearly three years, The Washington Post reported.

The Cookeville Regional Charitable Foundation of the city-owned hospital has been working in strong, coordinated partnership with Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton and Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter to help families with immediate basic necessities and financial assistance, thus helping them start on the road to recovery.

In helping more than 65 families through the first two weeks after the tornado, the greatest need has been lodging. Having a home and a roof over your head remains the greatest stabilizer for individuals and families.

In the newspaper story, Ramey went on to note that patients may receive bills for an ambulance ride, independent physicians or from other hospitals if they were transferred. But they won’t be receiving any bills from CMRC, which will absorb those costs.

“We’re encouraging all of those providers to do something in kind,” the hospital’s Chief Operating Officer Scott Williams said.

Hannah Davis, CRMC marketing and public relations specialist, gave The Community Foundation an update on April 13:

CFMT: How have you been using the tornado emergency response grant or grants?

CRCF: Through collaboration with the CFMT, we have been successful at providing assistance to tornado survivors for essentials like housing, utilities, repairs, food, transportation, childcare, medical services, animal care, and household items. So far, we have helped 168 families. We are truly grateful to our Middle Tennessee neighbors for responding to the critical needs of Tornado survivors in Putnam County.

CFMT: In light of changes in how we all live and work due to the coronavirus pandemic, how is your organization managing to work in supporting tornado relief and recovery efforts? What challenges have you all overcome or are overcoming?

CRCF: Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, we continued to care and treat tornado victims as well as offer support services for our staff to cope with the tragic event. Currently, we continue to provide support and raise funds for our employees affected through the Cookeville Regional Charitable Foundation and internal fundraising. Cookeville Regional runs disaster drills throughout the year and because of that training, our medical center was prepared. There is always room to grow and improve, and we will continue to do so if disaster if strikes again.

CFMT: Give a favorite example or two of your staffers or volunteers stepping up to make a difference to help people through these disasters?

CRCF: There are truly so many examples. Our providers and staff responded and never missed a beat in providing care, not only for the victims who were scared, traumatized and in pain but also for the families who were distraught with worry. Everyone did what was asked of them, and as a result, our hospital response to this heart wrenching disaster was delivered seamlessly, resulting in saved lives and prompt treatment of injuries delivered with compassionate care. The staff came together to help support the employees affected. Some gave of their resources, while others gave their time to go out in the community and clean up or serve.

CFMT: In terms of tornado relief and recovery, what needs remain in your community or communities for tornado relief and recovery?

CRCF: This tornado affected so many homes and families in our community, and it will take many months, maybe years, to see the area cleaned up and families settled once again. There will be a need for ongoing clean up and help for these families.

CFMT: Define the word “hope” for you and your organization.

CRCF: Hope for our medical center is knowing that whatever comes our way, we are able to handle it together, and we will be stronger for it.”

Follow up with John Bell, Executive Director, Cookeville Regional Charitable Foundation

CFMT: From your organization’s perspective, what progress has been made since the March 2020 tornadoes, and what more still needs to be done for survivors?

CRCF: Repair and rebuild work continues as we approach the anniversary of the March 3, 2020 tornado which claimed 19 lives, injured over 90 residents, and destroyed nearly 150 homes in Putnam County.

Although the impact on our community is far-reaching, we have been encouraged in the face of this overwhelming tragedy, to see so many people and organizations working together to help hundreds of residents affected by the storm.

There have been dozens of relief groups and hundreds of volunteers on the ground in Putnam County helping since the storm. The local committees coordinating relief efforts have been continually renewed and inspired by the willingness of so many local, regional and national volunteers and organizations willing to work together to help survivors. We have also been blessed by continued collaboration and unified support from city and county government offices.

To date, 463 families impacted by the storm have received aid through coordinated relief efforts in Putnam County. This includes 76 repair projects ranging in scope from roof repair to major structural repairs. We have 29 additional small repair projects in process, and five complete home rebuilds in the construction phase right now.

Inspiritus Disaster Recovery and UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief-TN Tornado Recovery Connection) are working with for completed repair and rebuild projects, alongside volunteers from AmeriCorps, the Mennonite community, and dozens of other local churches and relief groups.

We would like to thank supporters of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, whose support has been ongoing, generous and impactful. We would especially like to recognize [CFMT Vice President of Donor Services] Amy Fair for her willingness to share best practices and build collaboration among regional and national groups as we work toward recovery in Putnam County.


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