Wellmont continues to explore merger options

Nathan Baker • Jul 30, 2014 at 9:23 PM

An announcement made Wednesday by Wellmont Health Systems regarding the status of the board of directors’ search to explore merger options answers some questions, but leaves others without reply.

In an emailed news release, the regional hospital and clinic owner announced the field of potential partners had been narrowed from six to three, and said the board would soon begin a dialogue with the communities served by its hospitals and their doctors and other employees hoping to gauge the support for any proposed partnership.

The release states the three remaining nonprofit health organizations include “a regional system and two significant health systems beyond the region,” but does not identify the entities.

In an interview earlier this month, Alan Levine, the CEO of Mountain States Health Alliance — another regional health system serving the Tri-Cities and Southwest Virginia — declined to discuss whether his organization was involved in Wellmont’s partnership search.

“We’re a community-based organization, and I think first and foremost, our board would like to remain that way,” Levine said then. “If we ever had to make a decision that we were going to do something with an outside system, I think that would be our last resort, but you never rule anything out, because the environment’s changing so dramatically.”

When asked Wednesday to comment on Wellmont’s announcement, MSHA spokeswoman Teresa Hicks likewise declined comment.

“This process belongs to Wellmont and we respect their privacy, so we’re not going to comment on anything related to their potential partner selection,” Hicks said.

Jim Wozniak, Wellmont’s spokesman, gave an even more terse reply when posed questions about the meaning of the released statement.

“Due to confidentiality agreements, we cannot disclose the names of any of the remaining interested parties,” he said.

The announcement to the media and to Wellmont’s employees from board Chairman Roger Leonard stated a final recommendation on the merger question is not expected until this fall at the earliest.

The system began the exploratory search in January with nine potential candidates. The field was narrowed to six in June when the company announced three of the candidates did not meet the requirements outlined by the board of directors.

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