Crowd expresses reservations at possible hospital merger - June 1, 2017

Courtesy of Chicago Tribune • Meredith Colias • June 1, 2017 02:43 pm

By Meredith Colias • Post-Tribune

The Service Employee International Union and the NAACP’s Gary chapter held a town hall meeting at Ivy Tech Wednesday night to discuss how Methodist employees would be affected by a potential merger with Franciscan Health.

Methodist CEO Raymond Grady told the nearly 100-person audience that 37 potential buyers had expressed some interest in acquiring its hospitals.

He said Methodist chose Franciscan because it was the only one that pledged to keep equitable health services in Gary. If merger plans would advance and win approval, Franciscan would take over Methodist’s assets and liabilities, he said.

“We basically become a Catholic hospital,” Grady told the crowd.

If a merger goes forward, Methodist’s board of directors would be added to Franciscan’s board. Methodist’s executives would remain in their roles. Union members would continue to keep their jobs, he said.

Grady announced last June that Methodist planned to explore a merger with another hospital.

Franciscan has proposed the construction a new $300 million hospital in Gary in exchange for ending the consent decree that mandates Methodist devote equal resources between Merrillville and Gary.

Several speakers in the crowd expressed skepticism that Franciscan would be beneficial for Methodist employees or care services it provides.

Dr. Deborah McCullough, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Methodist for nearly 40 years, told the panel she would to refer patients seeking birth control procedures to non-Catholic hospitals.

“My biggest concern is who we go to bed with,” she said after the meeting, referring to Franciscan. “There has to be some…rapport (there) with somebody who understands our views.”

The hospital system follows directives from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meaning it doesn’t perform certain procedures like vasectomy, tubal ligation, and abortion.

Oncology nurse Dee Popp also expressed concerns that staff could be subject to layoffs after a merger. She said she was laid off from Franciscan twice in 1984 and 1994.

Franciscan officials were not present at the meeting.

SEIU representative Lorenzo Crowell said after the meeting that the union did not actively invite Franciscan to attend, because it did not represent any of its employees.

The union represents over 600 employees, he said. Methodist employs more than 2,000 people.

Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary said he was not in favor of eliminating the consent decree, but would support looking at ways to potentially revise it. Brown said that he, Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson and former mayor Richard Hatcher would have to sign on any changes.

“I am 100 percent in favor of a new hospital,” he said. Many fears on Franciscan were “just a matter of trust and the unknown.”

“I am open and willing to get to know them better,” he said. “I have only heard negative (feedback on Franciscan)… That’s an open invitation for us to get to know one another better.”

In March, Methodist and Franciscan officials announced they signed a non-binding letter of intent aimed at combining hospital operations.

Both systems said then they expected expect to explore the partnership during a 120-day period before any agreement would be finalized.

Grady said Wednesday that he expected both sides would stay in preliminary negotiations through the end of the year.

Franciscan Alliance is one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the Midwest. Locally, it owns hospitals in Crown Point, Munster, Hammond, Dyer and Michigan City.

Founded in 1875 by Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, it employs nearly 20,000 healthcare professionals.

Nearly 100 years old, Methodist Hospitals operates two facilities in Gary and in Merrillville. Its Gary campus was the first Level 3-rated trauma center in Northwest Indiana.