The joint Albemarle Hospital task force seems to have already decided to seek a partnership with a larger organization that can inject needed capital into the hospital. It’s not a matter of if, but how soon.
Before that happens, the task force needs to make sure it fully understands what any deal will bring to local medical care both immediately and in the future.
Equally important, the Pasquotank County commissioners and Albemarle Hospital officials need to be up-front with the public and explain in plain terms why a new partnership is needed, what the benefits and drawbacks are, and if the community will retain a voice in the decision-making.
Hopefully, some of those answers will be provided at a public hearing tonight on the draft request for proposals (RFP). The RFP should explains what interested suitors need to include in their plans to partner with the hospital.
The task force has already agreed on three key points:
• Albemarle Hospital needs to remain a nonprofit.
• The hospital needs to be a regional referral center, at which smaller community hospitals in the region refer patients.
• Any partnership between the hospital and a larger system must be a good fit for the local culture.
Currently, the hospital is independent and must answer to the county commissioners, and thus the public. If it becomes a not-for-profit and the county loses its stake, then it could be more difficult for local residents and officials to have a say.
The task force should explain the benefits and drawbacks of being a nonprofit vs. a for-profit hospital. It should also explain what it means when it asks that a larger system such as Vidant Health of Greenville, Sentara of Virginia, or any other possible suitor ensure that it “be a good fit for the local culture.”
Also, Jerry Parks, director of Albemarle Regional Health Services, raised several important questions at a recent task force meeting that need to be answered before any agreement is signed.
For example, would the larger health system become a partner that enables ARHS to continue its revenue-producing programs in a seven-county area. These programs, which have benefitted the community since the 1940s, include home care, hospice, pediatric asthma, adult day health care, diabetes care, health departments and nutrition.
“Any proposal that eliminates or minimizes these partnerships or holds a business plan that extracts revenues from our community stakeholders will do so at great peril to community programs designed for and by community leaders and advocates,” Parks stated.
Parks added, and we agree, that he hopes the hospital can find “the best of both worlds,” in which a larger entity is able to provide economies of scale without jeopardizing community partnerships.”
Meanwhile, Jan King Robinson, Albemarle Hospital’s vice president for operations, insists that independence is no longer an option for the hospital in the long-term to continue offering quality care with top-notch doctors and the latest in technology.
“We cannot stay alone,” she said at a recent task force meeting.
Bottom line, as we have stated previously before the hospital entered into its five-year management agreement with University Health Systems (now Vidant), now is the time to ask the hard questions and get the answers.
Don’t learn later that the agreement’s benefits are limited by federal anti-trust laws, as what happened after the current management deal was approved over three years ago, according to Jeff Dixon, a Pasquotank commissioner and member of the Albemarle Health Authority Board of Commissioners.
And also as we have previously stated, the hospital and public must avoid future surprises. Everything must be out in the open if the hospital is to reduce the public’s skepticism and resistance.