Community expresses concerns over NWI hospital merger - May 31, 2017

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana • May 31, 2017

Written by: Giles Bruce

GARY — About 100 people attended a town hall meeting Wednesday at Ivy Tech Community College to share their concerns over a possible merger between Methodist Hospitals and Franciscan Alliance.

The two systems, the second and third largest in the Region, have been in exclusive talks since March, when they signed a 120-day letter of intent to explore a partnership. Under the deal, Franciscan would take on all of Methodist’s assets and liabilities.

Methodist President and CEO Ray Grady, who was hired two years ago in part because of his experience with hospital mergers, said Franciscan was chosen out of 37 potential candidates because of its willingness to invest $300 million to build a new hospital in Gary, likely located along Interstate 80/94 near the Indiana University Northwest campus.

“I think this is a great opportunity,” he said. “I think we’re missing an opportunity if we don’t complete this partnership.”

That investment, however, would likely spell the end, at least in its current form, of a U.S. Office of Civil Rights consent decree that has existed since the 1970s to ensure equitable spending at Methodist’s campuses in Gary and Merrillville.

Grady said none of the other hospital systems in consideration were willing to devote serious resources to Gary or honor even the spirit of the consent decree.

State Rep. Charlie Brown, a Gary Democrat who was one of the originators of the consent decree, said that he, former Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher and current Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson would have to sign off on any changes to the agreement.

“I am 100 percent in favor of a new hospital being built in Gary,” Brown said. “But I don’t know the Franciscans … I’ve only heard negatives about the Franciscans … That’s an open invitation for us to get to know one another better.”

The event was hosted by the Gary chapter of the NAACP and the Indiana branch of the Service Employees International Union Healthcare, which represents about 600 of Methodist’s roughly 2,300 employees. The unionized staffers include such positions as housekeepers, nursing assistants and food service workers.

Grady said Franciscan has agreed to keep those employees in the union if a merger takes place.

Grady said the merger would allow the Gary and Merrillville hospitals to better compete in an era of increasing consolidation in health care. Bigger systems, he said, are better aligned for a reimbursement model that is shifting from quantity to quality of care and to recruit providers at a time of increasing labor shortages.

Other attendees expressed their unease about Franciscan being a Catholic hospital system with directives against sterilization and birth control.

Deborah McCullough, a Merrillville OB/GYN physician, said she often has to divert patients who need their tubes tied from the Catholic hospitals in East Chicago and Hobart to Methodist. If the deal goes through, Munster Community Hospital would be the only non-Catholic hospital in Lake County.

Grady said that in the past 15 months Methodist has only performed 102 tubal litigations and 23 vasectomies.

Dee Popp, a nurse at Methodist, worried about the potential for job cuts. She said she was laid off from Franciscan’s hospitals in both Dyer and Crown Point shortly after the system took over at each of those facilities.

“I can guarantee you every one who has a job today will have a job tomorrow,” Grady said, noting that Franciscan’s benefits are more favorable than Methodist’s. He said Methodist’s board of directors would join the Franciscan Northwest Indiana board and that Methodist’s executive team would remain in place.

He said negotiations will likely continue through the end of the year.