Bristol Hospital, Tenet: Moving toward merger

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
Bristol Hospital is a step further to possibly joining Tenet Healthcare Corporation, as it recently received its application for a certificate of need from the state.
In an interview with the Bristol Observer, hospital officials discussed the process and explained what kinds of changes the community could potentially see if the sale goes through.
Kurt Barwis, CEO and president of Bristol Hospital said they now have 60 days to file the application upon receiving it.
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 Bristol Hospital submits the application, the state will review it within 120 days. Once the application is deemed “complete,” OCHA and the attorney general will hold their own public hearing. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission will review the application.
“In general, the questions are [about] how the transaction works, and they’re really trying to get on the potential impact of the community to ensure that at the end of the day, this is a good thing for the community,” said Barwis.
Under the agreement, Tenet would have 80 percent ownership rights of Bristol Hospital, with the remaining 20 percent left to Yale. The estimated purchase price of Bristol Hospital is $50 million.
The agreement also includes an investment of $45 million in capital improvements. Barwis said the hospital has a long wish list of capital projects it would like to invest in. But Barwis said the question lies in how changes in health care will determine which projects on that list are needed.
“That wish list clearly includes investments in the inpatient infrastructure of this facility, making some upgrades to the med-surgical floors,” said Barwis, adding that outpatient facilities could likely be included in the capital project list. “But the degree to which you do that depends on how health care changes over the next five years.”
“With so much changing in health care, having access to the kind of capital that the Tenet-Yale partnership affords us, will be visible, and will reward a lot of the goals we had,” said Marie O’Brien, chairman of the hospital’s Board of Directors.
Barwis said that although it is difficult to determine exactly when the sale of Bristol Hospital will be complete, the hope is for the process to be done by next spring provided that the legal process runs smoothly.
“I think after we go through all the hearings, we’ll have a successful outcome,” said Barwis. “I anticipate we’ll be fine on all fronts.”
“We’re confident that we have done the due diligence required,” said O’Brien. “We’re looking to a very bright future that will keep this community hospital at the forefront of what’s needed in healthcare.”
In August, people from different walks of life attended the public hearing that took place in Bristol Hospitals’ auditorium. During the hearing, Tenet and Bristol Hospital officials addressed those in the community who felt concerned about the hospital losing its brand and image as a local institution if the sale goes through.
Barwis said Bristol Hospital will continue to operate as Bristol Hospital. If it becomes a for-profit hospital, Bristol Hospital will keep its name and image as a local business.
“I think the public will realize the investments that are being made,” said Barwis, adding that the only major change the community will see is Bristol becoming a taxpayer.
O’Brien said that although Tenet’s corporate headquarters is located in Texas, Bristol Hospital will not acquire a “large corporate structure in Connecticut, so resources will “continue to focus on the patient.”
“They will not see the Bristol Hospital name change, they will not see any change in the quality of care, they will not see changes in our facilities,” said O’Brien. “Bristol Hospital will remain Bristol Hospital. They will see the same kind of caring that the community and the hospital have developed over the years…which includes the kinds of donations we received from individuals and from organizations to develop some of the programs we have.” “They’re still going to get great care and it’s going to come down to that one-to-one attention, that human touch.”
“People are really starting to realize that they are fortunate enough to have a hospital in their community,” added Eva Wickwire, assistant vice president and chief development officer of Bristol Hospital. “Not every town in this state has its own hospital.”
Trip Pilgrim, senior vice president and chief development officer of Tenet, said Tenet operates its hospitals as community assets, and doe not run them from Dallas. Known as one of the leading healthcare systems, Tenet owns more than 70 hospitals nationwide, including nearby states, such as New York and Massachusetts.
“Healthcare is a local business. [Hospitals] have a heritage, a legacy,” said Pilgrim, adding Connecticut has offered a great opportunity for investment due to its geographical proximity of its hospitals. “You don’t want to negate that role. To us, Bristol Hospital will always be Bristol Hospital.”
Pilgrim further noted a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which concluded that non-profit hospitals nationwide that became for-profit institutions in the 2000s were associated with financial improvements, but not associated with differences in the measured quality of care, overall mortality rates, or the proportion of poor or minority patients receiving care.
“[The study proves that] tax status is not a sub-predictor of the quality [of care],” said Pilgrim.
O’Brien said the Tenet-Yale partnership served as an obvious fit for Bristol Hospital, as Tenet has held the view that “all health care is local.”
“We’re teaming up with a partner who shares the same culture of quality care for patients,” said O’Brien, adding that the Tenet philosophy includes a strong community Board of Trustees.
“Their hospitals have local executive teams,” added Barwis. “There’s a very good alignment, we believe with the Tenet approach to local management of facilities. I don’t think my team is going to lose the ability to connect with the community, connect with the providers and organize the services in the way we’ve done it in the past.”