The medical staff of Lutheran Hospital says it supports a sale of the Lutheran Health Network because it has no confidence in the Tennessee-based parent company to “make decisions that are in the best interests of our patients, staff and community. The relationship ... is not reconcilable.”
In a meeting Thursday, about 100 physicians unanimously endorsed that position and other points to be communicated today to Community Health Systems of suburban Nashville, which has owned the eight-hospital Lutheran Health Network since 2007. According to the statement, the local doctors “urge the board of CHS to immediately work with our physicians to determine a suitable partner for the purchase of Lutheran Health Network. Time is critical and any further connection to CHS will harm our organization.”
The doctors also expressed their full confidence in Lutheran CEO Brian Bauer and said they remain “committed to continue providing the highest-quality care to the community.”
The News-Sentinel first reported how several Lutheran physicians attended CHS’ board meeting Monday to explore acquisition of Lutheran Health Network, which also includes RediMed clinics and other facilities. Dr, James Cameron, Lutheran Hospital chief of staff, said that “over the past 10 years physicians have struggled to express the needs of the local market (to CHS) and don’t feel its leadership has been able to get its hands around the desires of the community.”
Cameron, a critical-care doctor who specializes in infants, said the hospital has been hamstrung by a corporate structure that is not always in the best interests of the “smallest and most vulnerable,” and said local decision-making could help correct that.
Cameron said he believes CHS’ recent announcement of $500 million in improvements to the Lutheran network was sincere, but added he would “like to see that accelerated from over five or six years to one or two.” Although some have questioned whether the investment could be affected by a potential sale, Bauer said Thursday he believes it will happen and said Monday’s CHS board meeting was marked by “great dialogue.”
“Investing in patients is the right thing to do at any time,” said Bauer, who also was at Monday’s board meeting but noted he is not directly involved in any potential purchase. “I’m CEO here; I’m an advocate for patients, and my focus is on Lutheran. The rest of it isn’t something I focus on or my responsibility,” he said.
Other Lutheran employees are getting involved, however — and are skeptical of the motives behind the $500 million proposal.
A 9 a.m. Saturday rally at Lutheran Hospital is open to employees and the public to show support “for our patients, physicians, employees and community (and) to tell CHS their offer of $500 million is not acceptable — too little, too late.
“CHS, please leave our community! Trust is earned, not purchased.”
Meanwhile, physician and City Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, hosted a news conference today with doctors and other council members to support a possible sale.
In a statement, participants noted that “Healthcare is the leading employer in Allen County with more than 30,000 jobs ... The quality of health care and commitment of the medical staff at the Lutheran Health Network is excellent ... (and) The Lutheran Health Network is a well-run, profitable health system, generating $300 million in net profits last year. CHS had a net loss of $1.7 billion in 2016 and has a $15 billion debt burden. The Lutheran Health Network operations in Northeast Indiana are subsidizing the massive losses of CHS.”
Crawford is part of an independent physician group that practices at all of the regional hospitals. They are not financially part of this buyout. He said he supports a sale “as a way to foster economic development and capital investment into Fort Wayne. It is much more beneficial for Fort Wayne residents when the profits generated by the Lutheran Health Network are able to remain in Fort Wayne.“
CHS, which owns 146 hospitals in 21 states, has not commented on the purchase offer.