Friday, December 12, 2008

Uncertain Times...

As others in our family and friends go through these trying times, we continue to pray for everyone, both near and far. Here's what's happening at our house:

  • Wadley rejects merger

Directors opposed revised letter of intent from CHRISTUS

Just six weeks after announcing they would become one hospital, the deal is off the table for a proposed merger of Wadley Health System and CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System.

On Oct. 22, Wadley accepted a letter of intent regarding the purchase of Wadley. The deal was accepted with much fanfare, including a joint press conference with officials from both Texarkana hospitals. But on Wednesday, the Wadley Board of Directors voted against accepting a “revised” non-binding letter of intent from CHRISTUS Health.

“The board has chosen not to accept the revised letter of intent from CHRISTUS. The new LOI (letter of intent) terminated the old one,” said Mike Lieb, Wadley’s interim chief executive officer.

Citing legal reasons, Lieb declined to disclose the specific reasons Wadley board members turned down the deal.

“It was structurally different,” Lieb said of the most recent letter of intent.

Wadley officials had previously said they saw joining CHRISTUS St. Michael as a golden opportunity to keep their mission alive during tough economic times for health-care providers.

“We saw it as a wonderful opportunity for the community, but it’s clear it’s not going to happen at this point ... or at all,” said Fred Norton, Wadley Health System board chairman.

CHRISTUS Health, a Catholic, not-for-profit health system, is headquartered in Dallas. It comprises almost 350 services and facilities, including more than 50 hospitals and long-term care facilities, 175 clinics and outpatient centers in more than 60 cities in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Georgia, Utah and Mexico.

Chris Karam, CHRISTUS St. Michael CEO/president, complimented Wadley officials, calling the last several weeks a “positive experience.”

“We certainly respect their decision,” Karam said about Wadley’s vote not to accept the revised offer.

Officials at both hospitals said they worked well together as they attempted to seal a partnership.

“Chris and his crew took on a huge burden following the last go-round in October, trying to figure out how to meld two organizations together,” said Lieb. “We have a lot of shared interests. We’re very pleased with the relationship and we will continue to work together.”

The turn of events puts Wadley in a precarious position, especially financially. Hospital officials said they will enlist the help of an investment banking firm by the end of this week. The investment firm is expected to help Wadley locate and identify potential buyers or investors.

“Whether it’s ... one of 50 hospital companies around the country, they will help us identify companies interested in this market and in us ...” said Lieb.

Wadley officials said it’s not a matter of if, but when they find an investor or buyer.

“We’ve come to the difficult conclusion, it’s an impossibility to be a stand-alone facility,” said Norton.

Wadley has negotiated more funds from its lenders to help offset the costs associated with retaining an investment firm and to help operate the hospital when patient volumes are down.

Wadley runs as a very efficient organization. There’s not a lot of fluff. We have maintained the level of quality. Our big issue is volume,” said Lieb.

Wadley officials say their challenge is to make the facility more attractive to area physicians who often choose which hospital to send their patients. They also must make it more attractive to the patients themselves.

“Our satisfaction surveys are 99 percent and that speaks volumes,” said Remica Gray, Wadley Regional Medical Center board chairwoman. “The nursing staff is tremendous ... the management staff is outstanding ... Wadley needs volume. We can’t be a viable hospital without patients.”

Norton said Wadley needs to maintain a census of 105 patients to sustain operations.

“Those numbers dropped to 50 or 60 last spring and summer. Today it’s 112,” said Norton. “Patients can directly impact that and physicians can impact that. If they truly want to see this mission preserved, we need their help.”

Wadley officials emphasized the hospital will continue its mission of providing quality health care in the community.

“We need to remind folks we are a high-quality, long-term Texarkana entity and we intend to be here fulfilling our mission. We want to remind people we’re here and they can’t get better treatment anywhere,” said Lieb.

“We’re just looking to preserve our mission—the mission of providing health-care services to the 16-county area we serve regardless of ability to pay,” said Norton. “We want patients to know it’s business as usual.”

  • How to help ease a hospital’s pain

A clever advertising campaign that emerged several years ago, built on the slogan “Take Me To Wadley,” seems most apropos today, and much more urgent.

What originally sounded like a call to exercise choice in this two-hospital town, now resounds like an SOS for immediate relief. If you want Wadley Regional Medical Center to survive—even if it is just long enough for it to be sold—it’s time to get your health care habits aligned with your heart.

Last week, the wedding of CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System and Wadley Regional Medical Center was canceled after the prenuptial agreement was revised, then rejected. Now Wadley must regroup and quickly.

These are critical times for Wadley, particularly the next few months, say several doctors who have watched this drama unfold. Plain and simple, Wadley is in dire straits. While it is still possible for it to have a viable presence in Texarkana, it is more likely another suitor must be found.

Either way, if you value having more than one option in town, if you value keeping local health care workers employed, somewhere, you don’t have to just sit on the sidelines and let this drama play out. You can play a small part that, when added to many other small parts, can help shape health care in Texarkana for years to come.

Now is the time for individuals in the community to bolster Wadley, either so it can continue its mission or until another buyer can be found.

This is not a call for donations, but for consumer considerations.

The circumstances that led to Wadley’s current predicament had nothing to do with the quality of its care. It is a good hospital. Most of its failings can be tied to business decisions made years ago. But there are some obvious steps that can ease some of the current economic pain.

First, local doctors need to schedule some surgeries at Wadley. Wadley isn’t so far off course that small efforts would be wasted. They would help a lot.

Sustainability for Wadley is keeping a few more than 100 beds filled, says Fred Norton, the hospital’s board chairman. The current census is 112, but numbers in that range have been elusive at times, dropping by almost half last spring. Doctors have a lot of influence in keeping those numbers up. They can make a huge difference by keeping Wadley on their radar.

But so can medical care consumers. Patients can ask their doctors to use Wadley, can make a point of doing so. It doesn’t take a massive movement to make a difference. But it may take a little prodding.

Most Preferred Provider Organizations and Health Maintenance Organizations don’t exclude one hospital or the other, so that’s rarely an issue. Indeed, over time, many people have received excellent treatment at both hospitals and don’t actually prefer one over the other. And since most hospitalizations are not elective, this is not an encouragement to create new expenses, only to redirect existing ones.

Finally, patients who are inclined to look outside of Texarkana for medical care might reconsider the local option. There is not much medically that can’t be done in Texarkana and done at a high skill level at both our hospitals. Dollars that stay in town are dollars that are churned back into improving our own medical community.

While there are many aspects of Wadley’s dilemma that are beyond our control, as consumers we can still exercise some influence.

Maybe Wadley can be saved. Maybe it can’t. Maybe a for-profit hospital will move in here and set up shop. But the worst thing that could happen to Texarkana is for Wadley to be shut down even for a day. That would put too much strain on existing health care resources and further damage its value. Operational businesses are almost always more attractive than those that have been closed.

When Wadley, wounded as it was, first decided to pick St. Michael as a suitor, it was because they had compatible philosophies and missions. Wadley still may pursue finding a good match based on virtues, but at some point it will have to get what it can, and its creditors will have something to say about the final outcome.

Without doubt, Texarkana is large enough to sustain two hospitals, or maybe even more. Health care needs are only going to expand, particularly as the geriatric generation ages. Many people, even those with strong ties to St. Michael, don’t like the idea of Texarkana being a one-hospital town. It’s nothing personal, it’s just about having choices.

Wadley’s roots in this community go back more than 100 years. It is invested in this community and is committed to plowing its resources back into this community in the most effective way possible. It needs help to achieve that goal.

Texarakana has been blessed for many years with two caring and high-quality hospitals. We can get by with one, but do we really want to?

If you think not, than put your money where your mind is; let your sentiment reflect in your spending.

Just a note from me: no matter the outcome of all this we will be just fine, but we would ask that you keep everyone going through these times in your prayers also

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