Bay Medical to lay off up to half of 1,450 staff

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Panama City, Fla.-based Bay Medical Sacred Heart revealed on Dec. 4 it expects to lay off 635 staff members early next year once it reopens, according to a news release obtained by the Panama City News Herald.

Bay Medical sustained heavy wind and water damage when Hurricane Michael hit the U.S. coastline in October, and has ceased all operations apart from its emergency room since the storm. Officials said they plan to reopen the hospital in stages starting soon after Jan. 1. However, the hospital will reopen at one-fourth of its previous 323-bed size.

The first phase of the reopening will include 75 inpatient beds with eight operating rooms and five catheterization labs, according to the report.

Hospital officials said in the Dec. 4 news release they plan to keep about half of the 1,450-person staff after Feb. 4, 2019, after the hospital reopens. A hospital board of trustee member told the Panama City News Herald “all levels of service will be affected, from department heads to the maintenance guys.” About one-third of the affected individuals are part-time, as needed or temporary employees, a hospital spokesperson told Becker’s.

Bay Medical has continued to pay employees and provide benefits since the hurricane and will continue to pay employees and fund benefits through Feb. 4 and Feb. 28, respectively.

“We are heartbroken to share this news at such a difficult time,” Bay Medical CEO Scott Campbell said in the Dec. 4 news release. “The decision to reduce our workforce has been incredibly difficult, but necessary to ensure our ability to continue providing care to the community and preserve critical services.”

The hospital is also in the midst of a transfer of control. Bay Medical’s owner, Nashville, Tenn.-based Ardent Health Services, recently signed a letter of intent to transfer its controlling interest in the hospital to St. Louis-based Ascension.

To aid in the workforce transition, Ascension said it plans to hold a job fair tentatively scheduled for Dec. 10-11. In a Dec. 4 statement to the Panama City News Herald, Ascension and Ardent said they are committed to hiring as many eligible employees as possible for openings in their systems.

To access the full report, click here.


EEOC sues Saint Thomas Health over mandatory flu shot policy

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against Nashville, Tenn.-based Saint Thomas Health Sept. 28, alleging Murfreesboro, Tenn.-based Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital violated federal law by ordering an employee to receive a flu shot despite his religious beliefs.

Saint Thomas Health requires all workers to receive an annual flu shot, which includes employees from TouchPoint Support Services — one of the Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital’s food and environmental services providers, according to the EEOC.

In 2013 and 2014, Saint Thomas Health allowed the TouchPoint employee at the center of the lawsuit to wear a protective mask, instead of receiving a flu shot, due to his religious beliefs. When the employee requested to again forego the flu shot in 2015, Saint Thomas Health turned down his request and fired the employee after he refused to get vaccinated, according to the EEOC.

“For several years, [Saint Thomas Health] accommodated the employee’s religious belief,” Delner Franklin-Thomas, director of the EEOC’s Memphis District Office, said in the press release. “Then, [Saint Thomas Health] refused to accommodate his religious belief. An employer should not force an employee to choose between employment and his religious belief unless doing so would cause an undue hardship to the employer.”

Becker’s Hospital Review reached out to St. Louis-based Ascension, which owns Saint Thomas Health, for comment on the suit and will update the article as more information becomes available.



Ascension’s decision to cut back services stirs debate among Milwaukee officials

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Milwaukee officials are urging Ascension Wisconsin to postpone its controversial scale back of services at Milwaukee-based Wheaton Franciscan-St. Joseph Hospital, which primarily serves a low-income neighborhood, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.

St. Joseph Hospital, which primarily serves patients covered by Medicare and Medicaid, plans to shutter its surgical and medical units, slowly sifting out inpatient care by July 1. Roughly 51 percent of the hospital’s patients are covered by Medicaid, 5 percent are uninsured and about 20 percent are covered by commercial health plans.

The closure of the surgical and medical units would leave no general acute care hospital north of downtown Milwaukee, an area plagued with widespread health disparities. Ascension, however, emphasized it is not leaving the city. Another Ascension hospital, Milwaukee-based Columbia St. Mary’s, is located 5.6 miles southeast of St. Joseph’s.

“We aren’t abandoning where low-income [patients] live, we are actually strengthening our ability to serve the people that live in the city of Milwaukee by combining the efforts of Columbia St. Mary’s and St. Joe’s,” Bernie Sherry, senior vice president who oversees the Wisconsin market of St. Louis-based Ascension Health, told Becker’s Hospital Review.

Since Ascension disclosed it would stop providing surgical and inpatient care at St. Joseph Hospital April 5, the health system has received criticism from multiple city officials and residents.

“We have an economic model now where if you have money, you’re going to get the best healthcare in the world, but if you’re poor, guess what? Get on a bus, hopefully you can get to a hospital five miles away and maybe you’ll get healthcare,” Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy told WPR. Mr. Murphy also emphasized that the implications of reducing services at St. Joseph go beyond the individual hospital.

Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan is asking Ascension to delay the closure of these units by one year to collect community feedback and find ways to mitigate the loss of services prior to phasing them out.

“If this request is rejected, I have already contacted the Office of the City Attorney and have asked them to watch carefully the process followed by Ascension to ensure that at a minimum, the corporation is in full and exact compliance with applicable state and federal laws and regulations,” said Mr. Donovan, according to WPR.

St. Joseph is part of Milwaukee-based Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, which merged with St. Louis-based Ascension in 2016.

Ascension and Providence St. Joseph Halt Merger Talks

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The two Catholic systems seemed like a good pair, but the details thwarted their potential union. Perhaps the timing just wasn’t right.

Had the potential merger between Ascension and Providence St. Joseph Health been finalized, the combined Catholic system would have surpassed HCA Healthcare as the largest hospital operator in the country.

But the two organizations halted their discussions about the deal, as The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, citing unnamed sources. The talks are not expected to resume any time soon.

“A merger of this magnitude may have been too big for either to handle while still amalgamating their own constituent parts,” Mark Cherry, principal analyst at Market Access Insights for Decision Resources Group, told HealthLeaders Media in an email.


“Ascension is only now putting common branding on its operations in Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states, while PSJ’s operations remain very region-focused,” he added.

News of the halted talks comes after Ascension said this week it would sell St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Hartford HealthCare. Last month, Ascension signed a definitive agreement to add Presence Health’s 10 hospitals to AMITA Health, a joint venture by its Alexian Brothers Health System and Adventist Midwest Health.

Providence St. Joseph, meanwhile, formed less than two years ago with the combination of Providence Health & Services and St. Joseph Health System.

So both systems are “still working out redundancies and efficiencies from their own earlier mergers,” Cherry said.

The Journal reported that Ascension’s directors backed “a new strategic direction to boost growth and labor productivity,” which was among the reasons cited for the proposed merger falling through. That could mean Ascension wanted to eliminate jobs, while Providence St. Joseph didn’t, Cherry said.

Ascension was already expected to cut about 600 jobs in Michigan, as The Detroit News and other outs reported earlier this month, citing a memo sent to employees.

All of this coincides with a flurry of M&A activity among major players in the hospital sector, including large Catholic systems.

After a year of negotiations, Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health announced their merger plans in December. A merger between Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care received final regulatory approval this month, and a separate merger is in the works between Mercy Health and Bon Secours.


Ascension, Presence Health ink deal to merge

Dive Brief:

  • Ascension and Presence Health signed a definitive agreement for Presence to join Ascension and become part of AMITA Health, a joint venture between Ascension’s Alexian Brothers Health System and Adventist Midwest Health. The two systems signed a non-binding letter of intent to strike a deal last August.
  • Presence Health will add medical centers, outpatient facilities and other care sites to AMITA Health except for Presence Life Connections, which will go under Ascension’s senior care subsidiary, Ascension Living.
  • Presence is one of the largest Catholic health systems in Illinois, serving about 4 million people with annual revenue of $2.6 billion. Ascension is the biggest nonprofit health system in the U.S. by acute care beds, according to Becker’s, with total operating revenue of $11.3 billion as of the second half of 2017, according to the company’s website.

Dive Insight:

Anthony Tersigni, president and CEO of Ascension, said the organizations remain committed to “providing compassionate and personalized care for all, with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable.” Bringing the two companies together will “strengthen Catholic healthcare as we provide affordable, accessible and quality care to the community.”

The companies said the transaction advances their “joint commitment to the mission of faith-based healthcare.” They also specifically highlighted both companies’ accountable care organizations (ACOs) that will allow AMITA Health “to even more efficiently and effectively address the growing emphasis on managing the health of large populations.”

Hinsdale, Illinois-based Adventist Midwest Health, which is part of Adventist Health System, and Arlington Heights, Illinois-based Alexian Brothers Health System, part of Ascension, formed AMITA Health in February 2015. AMITA Health is an integrated health system with nine hospitals that serves western and northwestern suburban Chicago.

Ascension is in talks to buy Providence St. Joseph Health, the Wall Street Journal reported late last year, which would make the company even bigger with estimated annual revenue of $45 billion.

The agreement is the latest involving health systems trying to find ways to cut costs and reach scale, while looking to improve quality of care. These deals are becoming increasingly important as hospitals face lower reimbursements and patient volumes and payers push more care to outpatient settings.

A recent Kaufman Hall report found hospital and health system M&A increased from 102 deals and $31.3 billion in 2016 to 115 and a whopping $63.2 billion in 2017. Eleven of those sales involved sellers with net revenues of $1 billion or more, which was the most megadeals recorded.

Kaufman Hall predicts the M&A trend will continue this year, including blockbuster deals, aligning non-traditional players with targeted segments, partnerships involving nonprofits and for-profits and transactions along the continuum of care.

“2017 will likely be looked back upon as a bellwether for 2018 and beyond as the industry transforms itself with both proactive initiatives and reactionary responses to epic levels of disruption,” said Kaufman Hall.


Presence Health to join Ascension

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St. Louis-based Ascension, the nation’s largest nonprofit Catholic health system, signed a nonbinding letter of intent to acquire Chicago-based Presence Health, Illinois’ largest Catholic health system.

Under the deal, Presence’s medical centers, outpatient facilities and other care sites would be operated by Amita Health, a joint venture created by Ascension’s Arlington Heights-based Alexian Brothers Health System and Hinsdale, Ill.-based Adventist Midwest Health, part of Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based Adventist Health System. Ascension would own the facilities.

Presence Life Connections’ skilled nursing and assisted and independent living facilities would join Ascension Living, Ascension’s senior care subsidiary, the companies said in a news release.

“The mission, values and history of Presence Health clearly align well with those of Ascension, as both systems are dedicated to caring for all, with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable,” Ascension President and CEO Anthony Tersigni, EdD, said in the release. “We believe this will strengthen Catholic healthcare not only in the region but throughout the country as we are all dedicated to delivering personalized, compassionate care.”

Mark Frey, president and CEO of Amita and senior vice president of St. Louis-based Ascension Healthcare, a division of Ascension, also expressed excitement about the proposed transaction.

“Since we brought together Alexian Brothers Health System and Adventist Midwest Health to form Amita Health two years ago, we’ve always looked for opportunities to add like-minded partners with similar values to our system,” he said. “Bringing Presence Health into Ascension and AMITA Health is a perfect fit and an exciting continuation of our commitment to increase access to quality healthcare in the many communities we serve.”

Presence President and CEO Michael Englehart echoed these sentiments, saying his system “look[s] forward to working together to engage in this joint effort to expand, and continue to deliver, quality care for our patients and residents, as well as provide additional clinical opportunities and patient care resources to all our physicians and associates.”

The systems said a definitive agreement is expected in the future “pending detailed legal and financial due diligence, along with regulatory and canonical approval.” The deal, if completed, would add 10 Presence hospitals to Ascension and Amita, increasing Ascension’s hospitals to 151. Peoria, Ill.-based OSF HealthCare earlier this month announced plans to own the other two Presence hospitals — Presence Covenant Medical Center in Urbana, Ill., and Presence United Samaritans Medical Center in Danville, Ill.

Terms of the proposed deal were not disclosed.


Building a ‘nimble’ multi-state health system: 5 questions with Ascension CEO Dr. Anthony Tersigni

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With 2,500 sites of care — including 141 hospitals and 30 senior living facilities that sprawl across 23 states and Washington, D.C. — St. Louis-based Ascension may not seem well-suited to make sudden business changes. But Ascension President and CEO Anthony Tersigni, EdD, aims to make the nation’s largest nonprofit health system into one of America’s most agile hospital networks.

Here, Dr. Tersigni discusses the system’s recent national rebrand, how he instills a spirit of risk-taking and innovation and the issues he is focusing on over the next five years, despite uncertainty on Capitol Hill.

Question: What prompted the decision to rebrand Ascension’s healthcare facilities? What effect has the rebranding had within the organization and outside in the communities it serves since being implemented in 2016?

Dr. Anthony Tersigni: In 1999 we decided not to brand Ascension because the brand equity was in the local entities. But since then, we believe we’ve made enough inroads in safety, quality and high-reliability that we felt Ascension has developed a reputation of its own. How do we combine the national reputation with the local reputation? Since co-branding the Ascension name with the names of our hospitals in our communities in advertising and on the web, the results have been outstanding. It’s about making it easier for the people we serve to navigate our system within a particular community because they now understand we’re all connected. We’re going to roll this out throughout the country, but we’re doing it in a sequential way because it’s very costly. But we believe now is the time to position ourselves as the national system that we are.

Q: What are your primary goals for the organization for the next five years?

AT: We want to continue to grow our primary care, expand access and continue to move toward value-based care. We want to be able to take on risk in a way where we can move into first-dollar coverage so we can move the patient through the continuum of care. We promise healthcare that works, that is safe and that leaves no one behind — for life. For us to do that, we need to be able to put patients in the right setting for the right care at the right time. If we can take on risk and walk with our patients and their families through our clinically integrated systems of care, we believe we can keep them well.

When it comes to population health management, the mindset is we need to change the way we look at our current business. We are moving from fee-for-service, where we get paid for doing things, to fee-for-value, or how to keep people well. We’ve been so successful as a hospital company under fee-for-service, and now we have to change the mindset and culture of all of these stakeholders. We have to go in a different direction. It’s like changing a flat tire on a car while it’s moving. No one has figured out yet how to do it, but you’re going to have to figure it out.

Another priority is mental and behavioral health. That’s very important to us. It’s a core part of our mission, and we want to be partners with whoever else sees that as a key component.

Q: What are the most important management practices when leading such a vast system with thousands of employees?

AT: In the 18 years since we created Ascension, we’ve been trying to have a culture that’s transparent, candid and nonpunitive. That’s a dramatic departure from the healthcare industry of old. I like to think I surround myself with really bright individuals and subject matter experts, and I try to empower everyone to do what’s in the best interest of those we serve. That’s what this is really all about. I like to think I hire people who are brighter than I am and give them the resources to do their jobs. Then I get out of the way.

That’s one of the principles we try to instill in our Leadership Academy — a program where we take high-potential employees for two to three years and help them develop. They focus on spiritual health to better understand their inner self. The second thing is leadership development. Everyone comes to us with certain gifts. We want them to hone those gifts and develop other skills. And the other piece, which people don’t talk about often, is personal health and vitality management. We expect our executives to work eight, 10 or 12 hours per day at optimal performance level. That’s virtually impossible unless you understand the physiology of your body.

Q: How would people describe you personally as a boss?

AT: My job is to allow leaders across the country to do what they are capable of doing. I like to think I am the supporting cast to what they do, and therefore I want to give them as much leeway and support as possible, and I want them to take risks. I am a risk-taker. As long as you don’t hurt people, that’s how we learn — through making mistakes. So take that risk.

Q: How do you plan for the future amid the current uncertainty surrounding healthcare policy?

AT: We need to be the highest-quality, lowest-cost, best-outcome provider in every market that we’re in. Then regardless of what happens in Washington D.C., we are going to be there for our patients and they’re going to want to seek us out.

We are working to do our part to reduce costs and cut waste in healthcare. But at the other end of what we do are human beings whose lives can either be helped or ruined by our actions or inactions. We are constantly advocating as a voice for the voiceless because many of those folks don’t get a chance to have this kind of conversation. I feel compelled to represent them because we are at ground zero in terms of healthcare. We see the pain and suffering that’s happening in society. They are in our clinics; they’re in our emergency rooms; they’re in our hospitals; they’re in our nursing homes.

I spent a couple weeks on Capitol Hill meeting with every senator I could meet and say, “Look, we want to be a resource. If you have a policy idea, let us know what that is and we will tell you the practical implications of that policy on the people we serve.”

We will continue to advocate for the poor and vulnerable. Last year we provided $1.8 billion of community care, community benefit and charity care. Given where this is going, I believe that number is going to go up next year. Because we are a faith-based, Catholic organization, we are going to continue to serve those people. If it ends up being over $2 billion, we’re going to figure out a way to serve them. We have to do so until we find a national solution here.