By LISA CAPOBIANCO
People from all walks of life spoke recently at Bristol Hospital before health care officials as the hospital currently undergoes the process for a potential merger with Tenet Healthcare Corporation and Yale New Haven Health Services Corporation.
During a public hearing held earlier this month, most members of the community who voiced their opinion supported the sale of Bristol Hospital and Health Care Group, Inc. to become a for-profit institution.
Tom LaPorte, a hospice volunteer, said last month he visited a friend and close relative who happened to be Bristol Hospital patients at the same time. While spending time visiting with them, LaPorte said he spoke with some hospital employees their thoughts about the potential merger with Tenet and Yale.
“To a person, they were all extremely enthusiastic about it,” said LaPorte, who also supported the potential merge. “They felt that this was a golden opportunity to have new equipment, new techniques, it would improve their ability to do a better job.”
Bristol resident Cathryn Addy, a former member of the hospital’s Board of Directors for nine years, said she is in favor of the proposed sale of Bristol Hospital, and hopes it moves forward.
“I think it represents the Bristol Hospital community thinking about the future and trying to make sure that this hospital will be here for the long-term,” said Addy, adding the proposed sale represents a “sound” financial decision. “I fear that if this does not take place, an organization we have taken granted for in this community because it has always been here, will not thrive and will not be able to provide service to a community that is growing older, more diverse and needier in health care terms.”
Hospital officials said the process began in July when Bristol Hospital, Tenet and Yale New Haven Health Services Corporation filed a Certificate of Need Determination request with the Office of Health Care Access, and the state’s attorney general. The CON requires a state review of the proposed sale by OCHA and the attorney general. After the hospital receives a CON application from OCHA and the attorney general, it expects that application to be considered complete in February. OCHA and the attorney general also are required to hold their own public hearing.
A final decision by the state is expected by July 2015.
Kurt Barwis, president & CEO of Bristol Hospital for the past eight years, said under the agreement, Tenet would have 80 percent ownership rights of Bristol Hospital, with the remaining 20 percent left to Yale. The agreement also includes an investment of $45 million in capital improvements over six years by Tenet. The estimated purchase price of Bristol Hospital is $50 million, which would pay off the hospital’s debt, capital leases, pension liabilities and retirement obligations, said Barwis.
“I see a brighter future for Bristol Hospital and the patients who rely on us for the care of the Bristol community,” said Barwis.
Marie O’Brien, chairman of the hospital’s Board of Directors, explained the reason behind the hospital’s decision to join Tenet. O’Brien said the board took part in a long evaluation to decide whether joining a larger health system was the best for Bristol, and concluded that the hospital could not continue independently. After visiting eight hospitals owned by four private companies, the board chose Tenet and Yale. Known as one of the leading healthcare systems, Tenet owns 80 hospitals nationwide, including Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury and Waterbury Hospital.
“Our understanding of the current healthcare financial environment and the challenges ahead drove the board’s strategic decision,” said O’Brien during the public hearing, adding that the board felt most impressed by Tenet’s number of national awards for quality of care. “Financial and regulatory pressures from the Affordable Care Act cuts to Medicare and Medicaid funding are evidence that the time is now to take advantage of this opportunity to align with Tenet and Yale.”
Bana Shanmugam, medical staff president, said the Tenet-Yale affiliation will improve the hospital’s ability to recruit more doctors and to bring more specialists in the community, which has been an ongoing challenge.
“I really do think it’s going to take significant investments in recruiting new doctors and in new technology,” said Shanmugam. “As medical staff, we strongly believe this partnership with Tenet and Yale positions us and gives us the best opportunity to achieve that goal.”
Jim Albert, president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, was a former senior hospital and healthcare executive for 16 years. He said every hospital in the country has been undergoing a similar discussion like the one in which Bristol Hospital has embarked on.
Albert also recognized Yale’s worldwide renowned reputation worldwide, showing his support for its role in the community if Bristol Hospital becomes a for-profit institution.
“Yale is a class act—Yale is one of the internationally, renowned healthcare systems in the world,” said Albert. “We’re lucky it’s here in Connecticut, and if Bristol Hospital can become a part of that network, I’m all for it.”
“We are proud and excited about not only the partnership with Tenet, but also with Bristol Hospital,” replied Vincent Petrini, senior vice president at Yale New Haven Hospital. “We know of the great healthcare that is delivered in this community, and we are looking forward to continuing that legacy.”
Bristol Superintendent of Schools Ellen Solek, who serves as a member of the hospital’s Board of Directors, said during the hearing that she endorsed the merging of Bristol Hospital with Tenet and Yale.
“I also understand the relationships that are being built,” said Solek.
John Beeler, who worked at Bristol Hospital for 19 years as an assistant administrator responsible for food service, laundry, security and safety, said he felt excited when he read the certificate of need, and was impressed when he conducted further research on Tenet. Beeler said during the hearing he investigated the healthcare system after a recent incident that resulted in the death of his wife at a Massachusetts hospital due to lack of available staffing at the time.
“I knew in my heart that nobody wanted that to happen,” Beeler said to officials of Bristol Hospital and Tenet. “I think we need to be sure there is an expectation of service that every one of us has when we go into a hospital.”
Erik Wexler, CEO of the northeast region of Tenet Healthcare Corporation, said, “We rely greatly on the people who are on the ground in making decisions to where we need resources, where we don’t need resources.”
“Part of what I expect is that [Barwis] and his team…will make the right decisions about where we need people by the bedside to care for patients,” said Wexler.
Michael Nicastro, a Bristol Hospital corporator, said he understood some of the concerns of the Bristol community, which has experienced mergers and acquisitions in other areas, recognizing how other states across the country have undergone the same change.
“If you drive around this town, and you look at some other industries, you can see the outcome of mergers and acquisitions,” said Nicastro, noting the disappearance of Bristol banks downtown and New Departure.
Trip Pilgrim, senior vice president and Chief Development Officer of Tenet, said Tenet looks at healthcare as a local business, and understood Nicastro’s point of view.
“As a company we understand that,” said Pilgrim. “What this brings to Bristol Hospital is an opportunity to take advantage of those big scale economics…but at the same time not take away that essence that made Bristol Hospital, Bristol Hospital. It’s still going to be local.”