ELKHART — Formal creation of a new hybrid, two-hospital system consisting of Elkhart General Hospital and Memorial Hospital in South Bend could come sooner than later.
“I would say within weeks,” said John Martin, a member of the Elkhart General Hospital board of directors, which voted Tuesday in favor of affiliating with Memorial.
Of course moving forward is contingent on a favorable vote on affiliation by the Memorial board of directors, which meets today to consider the issue. But the board chairman in South Bend, Jack Hiler, has indicated the body is favorably inclined toward affiliation.
And presuming the Memorial board gives affiliation a green light, Martin and Greg Losasso, EGH’s vice president of operations, said the general public shouldn’t worry about the level of service it gets. On the contrary, affiliating paves the way for improvements, they say — a better chance of luring new medical specialists to the region and better planning for health care provision over the broader region centered on Elkhart and St. Joseph counties.
“People in the community will see no noticeable difference,” said Losasso, speaking in the wake of Tuesday’s vote. “Hopefully they’ll see an increase in access now.”
Said Martin: “I’m excited.”
EGH and Memorial first revealed last March that they were considering affiliation, meant to help the facilities better contend with increasing financial pressures in the health care industry. Since then, the boards of the respective hospitals — both of them independent, non-profit entities — have been more thoroughly investigating the proposal and digging into the background of each other.
Along the way, a group of civic leaders in Elkhart raised their voices, worrying affiliation would hamper health care delivery here. They had called for a stop to affiliation, and attorney Jack Cittadine, a spokesman for the group, Save Our Hospital, said now the foes will have to decide on the next course of action.
“We will assess what steps we will take now that the vote has been taken,” Cittadine said in a statement Tuesday. “The reaction of the public to the board’s decision may determine what comes next.”
Tuesday’s vote didn’t surprise him and he lauded the EGH board members as “good people who did what they believed was right.” Still, Cittadine faulted what he said was a “lack of transparency” from hospital officials as they deliberated the matter, saying it “fatally flawed” the process.
Under affiliation, the two facilities would meld into a two-hospital operation. A unified governing board would oversee them though individual boards at each hospital would manage day-to-day operations at each.
Proponents say the arrangement would better position EGH and Memorial to contend with likely reductions going forward in federal reimbursements to hospitals for Medicaid and Medicare patients. Joining forces would also allow economies of scale and aid in physician recruitment.
The foes fear Memorial, as the larger of the two hospitals, would dominate the new system. The upshot, they say, would potentially be clustering of care offerings in South Bend, requiring increased travel in some instances for Elkhart residents.
The EGH reps on Tuesday rebuffed such worries, indicating that diluting services in Elkhart would leave EGH vulnerable to other competing hospitals. “You’re not going to take services down at a hospital and leave people with no options or limited options,” Losasso said.
Alluding to criticism that EGH officials weren’t completely forthcoming as they deliberated affiliation, Losasso said many of the matters discussed by the board, by law, could not be publicly revealed.
Lintjer recused himself
The EGH officials didn’t reveal the breakdown of Tuesday’s vote.
However, approval required three-quarters support from the 17 board members, per EGH bylaws, according to Losasso. And the officials noted that EGH President Greg Lintjer, also a member of the EGH board, recused himself from the vote.
Lintjer stands to earn $1.6 million in severance pay per his EGH contract because he would step down as head of EGH as part of affiliation. Memorial Chief Executive Officer Phil Newbold would lead the new two-hospital system.
Headquarters for the new parent organization has yet to be selected and the new entity has yet to be named. EGH and Memorial would retain their names, though, and EGH spokeswoman Danielle Dyer said the new parent entity would maintain a lower profile than the two hospitals.