Fueling the hospital ownership debate, a new coalition last week announced its intentions to battle the spread of for-profit healthcare.
"The coalition is comprised of concerned citizens, community and public interest organizations, hospitals and healthcare systems, and a variety of other healthcare professionals," said the press release from Widmeyer-Baker Group, a Washington-based public relations firm. Members of the Coalition to Protect Community Not-for-Profit Hospitals, the release said, are "united in their concern about this disturbing trend" of for-profit companies buying not-for-profit hospitals.
But extensive interviews by MODERN HEALTHCARE show that a more accurate name for the group would have been the Coalition to Protect Inova.
The coalition appears to be a public relations move by Springfield, Va.-based Inova Health System, which recently survived a federal antitrust investigation of its merger with Alexandria (Va.) Health Services.
That deal, which is expected to close March 20, will give not-for-profit Inova control of four hospitals and 75% of the staffed beds in a six-hospital market in northern Virginia. The rest of the market is controlled by for-profit Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., which mounted an unsuccessful campaign to derail the Inova-Alexandria merger (March 3, p. 3).
In defending the merger, Inova has argued that the market extends into the District of Columbia, and that a merger with Alexandria would give it just 25% of the greater metropolitan District of Columbia market, said Donald Harris, Inova's senior vice president for government relations.
Columbia, which has threatened to file a private antitrust lawsuit to block the Inova-Alexandria merger, says the market is limited to northern Virginia and doesn't extend into the district.
Inova executives acknowledged the coalition is a response to Columbia's opposition. But Harris said it also has a broader mission: to work with other groups to help boards decide if selling community hospitals to for-profit firms is the best move. He said several other area hospitals have expressed interest in the effort.
"The next step is to look at how do we want to pull the coalition together," he said.
According to Harris, four parties in addition to Inova and Alexandria are committed to forming the coalition.
Representatives of three of the four interested groups joined Inova executives at last week's press conference. Those three are the National Consumers League and the National Association of Urban Critical Access Hospitals, both based in Washington, and MediCorp Health System, Fredericksburg, Va.
MediCorp owns 210-bed Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg. Fred Rankin, MediCorp's president and chief executive, said the coalition might turn out to be just a public relations move by Inova, but he said the issue of community control of healthcare is vital and he said he is committed to exploring it.
The fourth interested group to pledge support to the new coalition, according to Inova executives, is a new not-for-profit hospital advocacy group being put together by T.J. Sullivan, a former top Internal Revenue Service official and now a private tax attorney with Gardner, Carton & Douglas.
Sullivan said he wasn't "directly involved" with Inova, and he declined comment on any group he's forming.
Press releases also billed national not-for-profit hospital alliance VHA as a participant in the conference, but VHA backed out at the last minute.
Dan Bourque, senior vice president for corporate and government affairs at VHA, said he believed the event was an organizing meeting, but it later became clear VHA's participation would be read as a greater commitment than he was willing to make yet.
Irving, Texas-based VHA is an ardent Columbia foe. But Inova is a member of VHA's competitor, Premier.