St. Joseph’s comes selling
Asks for Morgan Memorial to close in favor of Greene County facility
By Tara DeRock Mahoney
Senior Staff Writer
As Morgan Memorial Hospital announced its fifth month in a row in which it exceeded $2 million in gross patient revenues—a new facility record—St. Joseph’s Hospital representatives were on hand with an offer to absorb Morgan Memorial into their new regional, Greensboro-based hospital plan.
“If folks decided to partner with us, an ambulatory, diagnostic [center] would operate here [in Morgan County] 12 hours a day,” said Kirk Wilson, president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health System. “It’s a hub-and-spoke plan,” he said, referencing St. Joseph’s plan for a new, regional hospital to be built in Greene County with part-time medical care facilities to be operated in surrounding counties such as Morgan and Putnam. St. Joseph’s is best known in the Atlanta area for its cardiac-care hospital of the same name; it is also part of Catholic Health East, the system that operates St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens.
Morgan Memorial Hospital Authority Secretary Jim Markley said he wasn’t convinced that Morgan County wanted part-time medical and emergency services.
“The issue we’re facing is just an overwhelming demand from citizens for a hospital in Morgan County,” said Markley.
Wilson said that if a true analysis of what county residents want and need were affected, residents might find that they are happy with a 12-hour ambulatory care center and a new regional hospital only 30 minutes away.
“We feel that with these ambulatory care centers…what [residents] really want is still here,” said Wilson. “If you think about it, what they want is to be able to visit friends and relatives when they’re sick…that’s what they would have.”
Representatives from St. Joseph’s said that a new, privately developed hospital will be built in Greene County along Highway 44, somewhere between Linger Longer Road and Carey Station Road. The new facility is expected to be operational in late 2011.
Under the St. Joseph’s regional health-care plan, the $1 million county subsidy of the current hospital would more than likely be eliminated. However, the county would still be responsible for an indigent-care fund to subsidize the cost of the caring for the county’s poor and uninsured. Officials from St. Joseph’s estimate the county’s annual contribution to such a fund would be in the $200,000-$250,000 range—but residents would give up the current 24-hour emergency room care provided by Morgan Memorial in favor of a 12-hour daily ambulatory care center.
“If [Morgan Memorial] is a typical [Critical Access Hospital], 75-80 percent of the patients could be handled in the urgent care [center], the other 20 percent in the [new] hospital,” said Wilson. St. Joseph’s is not considering maintaining 24-hour care in all
three counties in which it hopes to manage health care. “Having to staff three full-time emergency rooms 24/7, like you do today, is very expensive,” said Wilson. “You really don’t get any better care than you do in a regional hospital.”
Morgan Memorial Authority members asked if St. Joseph’s had considered a site for the new hospital on Interstate 20, rather than on Highway 44 in Greene County.
“That would be acceptable to Greene and Morgan Counties, but not to Putnam,” said Wilson. “For political reasons, the new hospital will not be within the city limits of any of the county seats…that’s why we’re looking at sites further down Highway 44, near that center.” Wilson said St. Joseph’s hopes to close on a site within the next 60 days.
The new facility is being developed without state or county monies, and officials hope to open with at least 50 beds in the facility, although the hospital will be designed in such a way that it can be easily expanded. The new hospital is expected to cost approximately $1 million per bed, or more than $50 million for a 50-bed facility. It is expected to have equipment to perform robotic surgeries such as knee, hip, and urological procedures.
“We’re not in this to make money; we’re not in this to lose money,” said Wilson. “We’re not in this to fill our beds in Atlanta.
After the guests from St. Joseph’s left the meeting, authority members discussed the proposal briefly, but did not make any decisions or take any votes. Morgan Memorial authority members are themselves in the process of funding and building a new hospital here in Morgan County, and did not appear to be swept away by the thought of transferring the primary medical care of county residents to doctors in Greene County.
“I don’t see any benefit to Morgan County,” said Dr. Eddie Cossio, a Morgan Hospital Authority member who was present for the St. Joseph’s presentation.