Governor veto puts hospital sale on ice

Bristol Hospital officials, and state legislators are not happy about Governor Dannel Malloy’s veto of a bill that is putting the sale of the hospital to a for-profit company on hold.
Last year, the hospital announced its agreement to be bought by Vanguard Health Systems, Inc., a Tennessee-based for-profit health care system— and a Fortune 500 company. Recently, the governor vetoed a bill, which legislators thought would pass, that would have allowed a non-profit hospital become a for-profit entity.
“This is not the end of the road for us,” hospital president Kurt Barwis said last week at a legislative breakfast.
Barwis said the intention of the sale by Vanguard was solely based on the fact that the hospital was looking for better ways to take care of its community, and not because it was “desperate or close to collapsing.”
“Bristol Hospital is not going away,” Barwis reassured the crowd, adding that it has a stable margin and “tremendous amount of strength in the community.”
During the legislative session, city representatives said they did not think the bill would be vetoed, as it had support from the state legislators. Barwis said he thinks more discussions could have taken place with the governor about the importance of the sale, and how it would benefit the community as a whole.
“I want to ask the governor now ‘How do we overcome this’,” Barwis said, adding there was no notification before the bill was vetoed. However, he said, the governor reached out twice after the veto happened to discuss.
“I want to see how we can move forward now,” he added.
Republican State Representative Whit Betts from Bristol said the veto was “a stab in the back” for the hospital.
“It is a huge injustice, and I never thought this would occur,” Betts said, adding the veto happened for “no good reason.”
Healthcare, he said, “is a number one priority,” and said he thought it had the blessing of everyone from the state legislative body.
Barwis said there are people who believe businesses and corporations “shouldn’t be taking care of people.” But if the hospital were a for-profit, he said it will have an increased ability “to operate this hospital even more efficiently and effectively.”
Barwis didn’t place blame on anyone during the discussion, and said the hospital and board of directors could have done more to educate decision makers on the process, and about hospitals and their need for capital— especially hospitals that are “low cost” such as Bristol Hospital.
“If hospitals start to shut down, the cost of healthcare is going to go up,” he added.
John Leone, a former president of the local Chamber of Commerce and former Bristol mayor, sits on the hospital’s board of directors. He said before the hospital opted to take on Vanguard as a partner, it visited and spoke with officials in many states in the country that had hospitals enter into a for-profit agreement.
“They become taxable organizations, which is good for the grand lists and the community,” he said, adding these states also didn’t see positions cut at their hospitals when the institutions became for-profit.
Democratic State Representative Frank Nicastro of Bristol said, “Just because the governor vetoed this bill, doesn’t mean it is a dead issue.”
The local legislator urged legislators and hospital officials to keep trying, even though the next legislative session isn’t until February.
“This hospital has a good reputation,” Nicastro said. “We want to keep it that way.”
Barwis said Vanguard has not said it would drop Bristol Hospital, but any further actions are on hold right now.
Comments? Email knaples@BristolObserver. com.