Hospital future decided today

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Baptist Health System is expected to make an announcement today about whether the company will sell its system and 10 hospitals, including Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster.

A 21-member board of trustees will decide the system’s future, choosing from a list of possible outcomes ranging from the sale of the entire system to a &uot;no-sale&uot; and continued operation.

Other options that have been considered by the board include the partial sale of Baptist properties and mergers with other systems, said Dennis Hall, president and chief executive officer of Baptist Health System Inc.

Baptist Health officials maintain that the system is not in financial trouble, but it simply doesn’t generate the margins required to meet capital needs such as renovations, the purchase of new equipment and future growth.

Hall said the problem is particularly evident at Shelby Baptist, a hospital that is &uot;bursting at the seams to meet community needs.&uot;

Baptist Health System has invested $55 million of capital in Shelby Baptist since it took control of the hospital in 1996, he said.

A 10,000-square-foot addition to the Center for Women’s Health and a three-story, 320-space parking deck were completed earlier this year.

&uot;And a lot more capital will be needed in the future,&uot; Hall said.

The board of trustees must decide which option best suits the Baptist Health system based on the recommendation of a steering committee and information from two years of research by an international consulting firm, Cap-Gemini.

&uot;This started almost two years ago when it became obvious to the management team that there was going to be some problems with access to capital,&uot; Hall said. &uot;The consultant firm said traditional cost cuts will not solve the problem.&uot;

According to media reports, at least two for-profit companies have made bids to purchase the system, Triad Hospitals from Texas and Florida-based Health Management Associates, though the bids are not public.

Hall said the possibility of a merger has been discussed, with Baptist Health of Montgomery and the UAB Health System listed as possibilities if that course of action is chosen.

&uot;Another option would be to find a capital partner to join with us to transfer all capital ownership but allow us to maintain our faith-based healthcare,&uot; he said.

Hall said &uot;just trying to stay the course&uot; is also an option but noted that the inability to provide capital would put limits on the system’s operation.

Whatever route Baptist Health takes, Hall said keeping all or at least some faith-based influence is &uot;paramount&uot; for the board of trustees.

&uot;Our feeling is that none of these (options) would necessarily rule that out.&uot;

But with all the talk of re-organization should the employees of Shelby Baptist be concerned about their job security?

Hall doesn’t think so.

&uot;I can’t conceive of any impact there,&uot; he said. &uot;Especially Shelby, a hospital that is so busy it, at times, has even had trouble filling budgeted positions.&uot;

Shelby Baptist, a 210-bed medical center, is currently the county’s only hospital.

In addition to the Alabaster facilities, satellite offices are located in Pelham, Helena and Columbiana.

Its emergency room treated more than 40,000 patients last year, making it the second busiest ER in the Birmingham area.

Last April, the hospital filed a civil suit against the State Health Planning and Development Agency after being denied a request to begin open heart services.

Currently, hospital patients requiring the full range of cardiac treatment must be transported to Birmingham.

After a near three-year pursuit of open-heart services, Shelby Baptist was expected to hear a decision on the matter from Shelby County Circuit Court Judge Hub Herrington.

However, the status of the process remains uncertain in light of speculation about the hospital’s ownership.

Hall said every effort would be made to keep the open-heart pursuit a prioritized goal.

&uot;I would say that any new partner or change in control would be as interested in that as we are. From a regulatory standpoint, we don’t want that community to have to go back to ground zero.&uot;