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Washington state officials have hired a large auditing firm to ensure the $156 million sale of Empire Health Services is fair. It's a move applauded by watchdog groups concerned that the purchase by for-profit hospital chain Community Health Systems Inc. includes sweetheart provisions that undervalue some of Empire's key assets.
Community Health Systems criticized the state of Washington for taking "an inordinately long period of time" to scrutinize the takeover of Empire Health Services, contributing to the financial problems of the century-old Spokane hospital group. In remarks to financial analysts Wednesday morning, Community Health CEO Wayne Smith said he expects the cash losses at Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital and Medical Center to wane now that the hospitals have made a series of tough budget moves under an interim management team, including layoffs of certified nursing assistants and other employees.
Financial losses and troubled national credit markets have lowered the value of Empire Health Services and trimmed the $172 million that Community Health Systems Inc. is offering for Empire's two hospitals. Proceeds available for a new charitable foundation would be lowered to $84 million – down from the $100 million Empire's board estimated when originally striking the deal.
A possible new $100 million foundation focused on Spokane health care needs is spurring hope among charitable organizations accustomed to scratching for dollars to pay for programs ranging from wellness to child abuse prevention. The money would come from the sale of Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital and Medical Center, a blockbuster proposal being scrutinized by state regulators. The buyer is Community Health Systems Inc., the nation's largest for-profit hospital company with 130 medical centers in 28 states. If approved – perhaps by late summer or fall – the deal would reshape the health care business in Spokane.
OLYMPIA – After a trip to Tennessee to meet the proposed buyers of Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital and Medical Center, several Spokane officials and business leaders Wednesday moved on to Olympia, urging state officials to approve the deal. Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, a private company, has proposed a buyout of Empire Health Services, including the two hospitals. CHS, one of the nation's largest hospital chains, has proposed paying $70 million to pay off the facilities' debt and another $100 million to set up a health foundation and investing another $100 million in the hospitals.
The owners of Sacred Heart Medical Center have made a $25 million offer to buy out Empire Health Services' stake in Inland Northwest Health Services.
Empire Health Services lost $7.1 million last year and is treating fewer patients, a two-fisted problem that executives said Wednesday is forcing them to cut about 130 jobs at Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital and Medical Center. It's the latest episode for a system awaiting regulatory approval to sell to a large, for-profit hospital chain.
One of the nation's largest hospital chains has proposed paying at least $168 million for Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital and Medical Center. In separate letters filed with Washington state regulators, Community Health Systems Inc. wrote that it intended to pay cash and assume debts totaling $129.2 million for Deaconess and another $38.5 million for Valley. The sums are most – but not all – of the money Community intends to pay as part of its buyout of Empire Health Services said Ron McKay, chairman of Empire's board of directors.
Spokane could end up with a $100 million community foundation following the announcement Wednesday that Empire Health Services has reached a sales agreement with the nation's largest for-profit hospital system.
As the likely sale of Empire Health Services grows near, Eastern Washington's competing hospital systems are starting to stake out positions over the future of their most successful joint venture: Inland Northwest Health Services. Providence Health & Services, the parent company of Sacred Heart Medical Center, is interested in buying Empire's share of the nonprofit best known for groundbreaking advances in medical information technology, an official said this week.
The 2,700 employees of Deaconess Medical Center and other units of Empire Health Services have received some job assurances as the sale of the hospital system nears. Job security is a central concern in Empire's probable sale to Community Health Systems Inc., the largest for-profit, publicly traded hospital chain in the United States. Fueling the worry among employees is that their union contract does not contain definitive succession language that would bind Community Health to the terms hammered out two years ago between Empire and Service Employees International Union 1199NW.
Community Health Systems Inc. has the money in place to buy Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital and Medical Center. With a collection of big-name banks lined up to offer the company credit, putting together a nine-figure deal has more to do gaining the approval of regulators and medical community, and less to do with finding the cash, said Ron McKay, chairman of Empire Health Services, which operates the two hospitals.
Abortion rights advocates have been assured that access to the procedure – as well as to vasectomies and other forms of birth control – will continue at hospitals operated by Empire Health Services even after a proposed sale. Dr. Kim Thorburn, medical director at Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest, said Empire board members told her that availability of reproductive services was on the checklist for choosing Community Health Systems Inc. of Tennessee.
Empire Health Services intends to bring its housekeeping, laundry, food services and clinical engineering departments back under hospital management after the company it outsourced the jobs to four years ago announced Friday it was terminating its contract. The move affects about 245 employees, according to the Washington State Employment Security Department. It also comes at a time when Empire has entered into a letter of intent to sell its two hospitals to Tennessee-based Community Health Systems Inc.
After nearly four years of roller-coaster dips and swells, Empire Health Services' wild ride to financial stability appeared to level off this month with news that a potential buyer has been found for the century-old system that includes two Spokane hospitals. But neither critics nor supporters of a possible sale to Community Health Systems Inc. of Tennessee should count the arrangement as a done deal, say state regulators responsible for approving it.
Last year, Deaconess Medical Center wrote off $20 million in charity care to low-income and uninsured patients in Spokane – an ongoing expense that once pushed the hospital to the edge of insolvency. Will a for-profit company that must answer to Wall Street have the same flexibility? The answer may not be as clear as people expect, experts said.
The pending sale of two Spokane hospitals to a Wall Street powerhouse would plow millions of dollars into aging Deaconess Medical Center and remake it into a tough competitor, say supporters of a deal with Community Health Systems Inc.
Empire Health Services needs $100 million to upgrade its computer systems and modernize Deaconess Medical Center buildings and equipment, chief executive Jeff Nelson said during public forums this week. About $20 million is needed for new computers, software, installation and staff training. The technology investment in information technologies would better align patients' records, doctors' notes, pharmacy information and body-scan images, for example.