MSHA hopes to make quick transition at Unicoi County hospital

Brad Hicks • Dec 1, 2012 at 6:49 PM

ERWIN — Mountain States Health Alliance will look to begin work quickly at Unicoi County Memorial Hospital following the UCMH Board of Control’s Wednesday decision to accept MSHA’s proposal to acquire the community hospital.

MSHA Vice President Tony Benton said in the next few days, MSHA will begin working closely with UCMH and the board to outline the definitive acquisition agreement. The parties will later move into the transaction phase that involves getting the full legal documents and the final agreement together, Benton said. He also said the $2 million line of credit MSHA has committed to providing to UCMH through the closing will now take effect.

Within the next couple of months, the parties will look to go through the closing process, Benton said.

“I would make it very analogous to purchasing a house on a personal level,” Benton said. “You go through the process of looking at houses, you agree upon a price and, once you have that, you develop the real estate agreement and then it usually take a month or so to organize the closing process and those types of things.”

Following the transaction’s closing, Benton said MSHA will initiate a strategic planning process. He said the organization has a formal process used at all its hospitals to conduct market assessments, examine the demographics of a community’s population and other statistics, and complete quantifiable data analyses. He said this will be coupled with a qualitative process that includes MSHA representatives holding focus groups and meeting with community members, hospital patients and employees, local physicians and community leaders.

Information gathered during this process will be used to determine the needs, appearance, size and scope of the heath care facility MSHA has committed to constructing in Erwin. Benton said the strategic planning process would likely take two to three months, and the facility planning process could also take several months to complete.

“It’s a very inclusive process,” Benton said. “Again, getting feedback from the people that work there, the patients who will be using the hospital, the physicians that practice there, so everybody’s comfortable with the community hospital that will be developed.”

Benton also said MSHA will look to fully assume management of UCMH after closing the transaction. He said because UCMH is under interim management, MSHA will help with the transition until it can assume day-to-day management of the facility.

How other caveats of MSHA’s acquisition — such as contributions to the town of Erwin and Unicoi County and a contribution to a foundation to enhance health care services throughout the county — will be addressed will also come after closing, Benton said.

Benton said MSHA already has a longstanding relationship with UCMH and its acquisition of the hospital will only serve to strengthen health care services offered in Unicoi County.

“We believe very strongly if care can be provided close to home, close to family, that’s the most appropriate care,” Benton said. “We’ve not wanted people to have to travel out of the communities if they haven’t had to.”

Since the board’s decision, MSHA has received feedback from community members, UMCH team members and local officials pleased with the outcome and complimentary of how MSHA worked through a “unique” acquisition process, Benton said.

“I think that really speaks to what Mountain States is all about,” Benton said. “At the end of the day, we want this to be focused on the patients. We want this to be right for the community, and we want to be very methodical and judicious with how we conduct ourselves as a business, and I think that came through with a lot of comments that we heard from community members and board members, as well.”

To those who were opposed to MSHA’s acquisition, Benton said that due to its relationship with UCMH, MSHA already has a relationship in the community. He also said the community can be assured MSHA intends to carry out its commitments.

“We’ll focus on exactly what we’ve said we would do,” Benton said. “We’ve made promises through that proposal. We will uphold those promises. Our focus at all of our hospitals and across Mountain States Health Alliance is to bring loving care to health care, and we want to focus our efforts on delivering the best care to patients. We want them to have the best outcomes. We want them to have the best patient experience possible, and that is what drives all of our leadership at all of our hospitals is to try and do that as effectively and efficiently as possible.

“That’s what we’re committing to this community. For those that were hoping for a different decision, hopefully they’ll give us that chance to prove ourselves and see that we will be keeping our promises.”

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