By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Although Tenet Healthcare Corp. recently announced its decision to abandon its plan to acquire five hospitals in Connecticut, one thing still remained clear for Bristol Hospital: the nonprofit will continue to move on strongly.
Last Wednesday, Bristol Hospital President and CEO Kurt Barwis; Marie O’Brien, chairman of the hospital’s Board of Directors; and Eva Wickwire, assistant vice president and chief development officer of Bristol Hospital, sat down with the press. Despite their disappointment with the turn of events, all three officials affirmed their belief that Bristol Hospital still will be able to carry its weight in the ever-changing health industry as a non-profit, community hospital.
“From an operational perspective…nothing is going to change,” said Barwis, adding how the hospital entered the deal for strategic and long-term reasons that were embraced through a due-diligence process. “Bristol [Hospital] is strong and healthy.”
O’Brien said Bristol Hospital continues to have an improvement plan, which will be reviewed again.
“Tenet would have continued to accelerate those improvements, continuing the upgrade of facilities…recruiting medical staff…but Bristol Hospital is strong,” said O’Brien, adding how 28 new employees recently began working there.
Over a week ago, Tenet said, due to state regulators issuing draft decisions that placed dozens of conditions on the deal, it would not acquire Bristol Hospital, as well as Waterbury and Saint Mary’s Hospital.
The state Office of Health Care Access placed 47 conditions on the proposed 80/20 for-profit joint venture between Tenet and Waterbury Hospital, and the attorney general’s office placed 21 conditions on the deal, according to a Republican-American (Waterbury) article.
As a result, Tenet said it informed OHCA and the attorney general’s office it is withdrawing its applications to acquire Waterbury and Saint Mary’s hospitals, as well as Bristol Hospital and Eastern Connecticut Health Network, or ECHN, which consists of Manchester Memorial and Rockville General hospitals.
When the Bristol Observer reached Tenet Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer Trip Pilgrim for comment, no additional information was provided beyond the statement that the Dallas-based corporation submitted on its website during the announcement.
“We greatly appreciate the dedication and hard work of so many individuals and organizations to create a strong future for the hospitals serving these communities. We respect the role the state regulators have in providing guidance and oversight to the healthcare industry, and understand the responsibility they take in discharging their duties,” said Tenet in a statement on its website. “Nonetheless, the extensive list of proposed conditions to be imposed on the Waterbury Hospital transaction, which is only the first of four transactions for which we’ve made applications, has led us to conclude that the approach to regulatory oversight in Connecticut would not enable Tenet to operate the hospitals successfully for the benefit of all stakeholders.”
Barwis said, under one of the conditions imposed by the state, Bristol Hospital would not be allowed to change anything without approval. He noted how when the hospital recently added a second CT scanner, that a certificate of need was required, which took months to achieve.
“Every time something changes, you have to go through that process,” said Barwis,. “We’re trying to reduce the cost of healthcare, make it easier to do the right things, not make it harder.”
Barwis and O’Brien said the situation will make an impact on health care in the state, as smaller hospitals like Bristol Hospital have significantly lower operating margins.
“Because of that, we have really significant issues with access to capital,” said Barwis, adding how Bristol Hospital pays state taxes despite being a non-profit entity. “Tenet provided a viable…legitimate way to invest in the hospitals that have gone without the investment for so long.”
Whit Betts, the state representative for the78th district, has supported Bristol Hospital’s right to determine its future. In response to the number of conditions imposed by the state, Betts said he feels disappointed by OCHA, calling the conditions “one-sided” and “unfair.” Betts said the hospital’s deal with Tenet brought a number of benefits, including an estimated $2 million in tax revenue for the city and an opportunity to upgrade hospital equipment and technology.
After speaking with staff at Bristol Hospital, Betts added that many of them also feel disappointed by Tenet’s departure.
“This has a huge impact on their lives,” said Betts, who questioned the state’s solution to helping community hospitals thrive. “This has magnified the crisis in community hospitals in the state of Connecticut.”
Betts further stated that if OCHA was a for-profit business looking to acquire a local hospital, would it obey its own conditions placed under the deal? One of the state’s conditions entailed maintaining staff and medical services for five consecutive years, recalled Betts. Betts added that if a department is losing $1 million a year, something will need to change, and those conditions would have impeded making any changes.
“You can’t balance your budget if you have that kind of deficit,” said Betts. “That neither seems realistic nor fair—where are they going to get the money?”
Since Bristol Hospital now will not become a for-profit, the hospital will need the community’s support for more access to capital, noted Barwis.
“We are going to do a capital appeal, and I’m hoping that people reengage with us, and help us because we do need access to capital,” said Barwis.
O’Brien said the hospital will need to be “very smart about finding the low-cost financing” for major initiatives it plans to pursue.
“Bristol Hospital has always had a tremendous donor base and community support, and we’re very hopeful that that will continue,” added Wickwire.
Recently, Bristol Hospital received its application for a certificate of need from the state. 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 required a state review of the proposed sale by OCHA and the Attorney General.
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 was $50 million. The agreement also included an investment of $45 million in capital improvements.
In its statement, Tenet expressed its appreciation for the leadership of the Connecticut hospitals it originally planned to acquire as well as Yale-New Haven Health System.
“Throughout this journey they have consistently demonstrated the highest level of integrity and steadfast devotion to a singular purpose: preserving access to high-quality, local healthcare services for all residents of their communities,” said Tenet officials on its website. “It is our hope that by removing Tenet from the process at this time, these leaders will have the opportunity to identify and pursue alternatives to achieve that goal.”
Despite the change in plans, Bristol Hospital noted its continued relationship with Yale. Barwis said that relationship continues to grow. Recently, Barwis noted how Yale landed its new helicopter at Bristol Hospital to pick up a patient.
“We’re excited about that,” said Barwis.
“Our medical staff has good relationships with their counterparts at Yale, so the transfer protocol for patients is seemless,” said O’Brien.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO