Two of the largest hospitals in northern West Virginia unveiled their plans to join forces last week, continuing a wave of consolidation sweeping through the region.
The latest facilities to join the frenzy are 330-bed West Virginia University Hospitals in Morgantown and 312-bed United Hospital Center, located about 34 miles southwest in Clarksburg.
Under a plan approved by their respective governing boards, the hospitals intend to form a mergerlike partnership, a consolidation model that is also sweeping the country. Like other partnering hospitals, the two West Virginia facilities would maintain separate ownership and assets but operate as a single merged organization overseen by a joint operating board.
Unlike other partnering hospitals, however, the new board envisioned by the two West Virginia hospitals would be elastic in nature because of their intention to bring other hospitals under the partnership umbrella.
The initial board would have 22 members: 10 university representatives, the university president, the chief executive officer of the new partnership and 10 community representatives. All 10 community seats would go to United Hospital Center at first, but United would have to share those seats with any other hospital that joins the new system.
"The deal is structured so that the university has 50% control at all times," said Bill Case, a spokesman for West Virginia University Hospitals.
Case said the deal also would allow the joint board to expand, if needed, but the university still would get half the seats on any larger board.
In a press statement, the hospitals said: "This proposed system would allow us to better meet the health needs of both communities. It would benefit the hospitals, the communities and the state of West Virginia."
But at a press conference, executives of both facilities didn't sugarcoat the fact that other hospital deals in the same region may have put the hospitals at a competitive disadvantage.
"Our driving motivation here is the changing environment that's requiring providers to be more competitive," said Bruce Carter, United Hospital Center's president. "This gives us the ability to be competitive with other providers."
Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., for example, was scheduled to complete its 50-50 joint venture deal with St. Joseph's Hospital in Parkersburg, W.Va., late last week. That follows Columbia's acquisition of Saint Francis Hospital in Charleston, W.Va., last year.
And Wheeling (W.Va.) Hospital recently signed an affiliation agreement with City Hospital, located across the border from Wheeling in Bellaire, Ohio, and a management contract with Wetzel County Hospital in New Martinsville, W.Va.
Fairmont (W.Va.) General Hospital, located midway between Morgantown and Clarksburg along Interstate 79, isn't saying what its next move is.
"If there is something, it's not something we're discussing publicly at this point," said Theresa Yanchetz, a spokeswoman for the 238-bed hospital, managed by Quorum Health Group.
Yanchetz also wouldn't comment on the impact a West Virginia University Hospitals-United Hospital Center deal would have on Fairmont, sandwiched between the two bigger facilities.
Meanwhile, executives from both organizations said they hoped to put together a final partnership agreement within six months, after which it would be subject to various state and federal regulatory approvals.