Hospital officials deny sale rumors

The Memorial Health System denied rumors Thursday that the organization had been sold.

Nor is the health system in talks to do so, confirmed Jennifer Offenberger, director of marketing and public relations for the Memorial Health System.

“Memorial Health System continues to remain an individual health care organization providing care to our community. We have not been bought, nor are we having that discussion,” said Offenberger.

Whisperings about the possible sale of Marietta Memorial Hospital, Selby General Hospital, and the other health system practices have not been unheard of in recent years, admitted Memorial Health System CEO Scott Cantley. But the most recent bout of speculation has been pervasive enough that the health system decided to put out a video to employees Thursday assuring them of the hospitals’ continuing operation as part of an independent health care system, he said.

“There’s no plan, no discussion,” Cantley said of selling. “Everything in our plan is to keep us from doing those things.”

The health system has made significant investments in new facilities and technologies in recent years, noted Tom Tucker, chairman of the Marietta Area Health Care Inc. governing board for Marietta Memorial and Selby General hospitals.

“If we were interested in selling, we wouldn’t be making the investments in the community that we are,” said Tucker.

It is possible the rumors started in reaction to the nearly constant changes taking place within the health system. The recent changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have required the hospital to place a lot of focus on internal efficiency and cost saving measures, said Cantley.

The immediate impact of the ACA was an approximately $2 million reduction in federal Medicare reimbursements to the health system during the 2013-2014 fiscal year, said Cantley.

Further changes, such as other reimbursement amounts hinging on nationwide performance comparisons, necessitate some internal changes.

Cantley denied that any employees within the health system have been laid off as a result of the changes, but said that some restructuring has taken place.

For example, licensed practical nurses, who have fewer allowable duties than registered nurses, are no longer a part of the hospital staff.

However, when the LPN positions were removed from the hospital last summer, those nurses were offered positions elsewhere in the health system, mostly in physicians’ clinics, said Cantley.

Another major change to the health system came approximately a month ago when the organization changed its benefits package for employees. The change had the immediate impact of wiping out sick leave accrued by individual employees.

However, the newly implemented sick program will allow for most employees to have more sick pay than previously allotted, said Cantley.

“We converted from an old system of sick hours that the individual banks to a system of employer provided short term disability,” he said.

The new program is entirely paid for by the health system and made it possible for employees to cancel costly supplemental insurance policies that some had chosen to take out, said Offenberger.

The expanding number of new facilities and practices falling under the health system’s umbrella provide room for further efficiency improvements, said Cantley. If the hospital hires at a slower pace than it grows, it can become more efficient without cutting positions, he explained.

And while ACA means less funding now, the idea is it will eventually boost financial growth by providing more insured patients.

“We’re living in the era of cuts, hoping for a future of newly insured patients,” summed up Cantley.