Five not-for-profit hospitals in West Virginia said they have formed a task force to evaluate creating a statewide healthcare system.
The proposed system links some of the biggest not-for-profit players in the state in an effort to attract managed-care business and compete against aggressive for-profit systems.
The potential partners include 794-bed Charleston (W.Va.) Area Medical Center, the state's largest hospital, and 440-bed St. Mary's Hospital, the largest hospital in Huntington.
The other participants are 208-bed Pleasant Valley Hospital in Point Pleasant, 293-bed Cabell Huntington (W.Va.) Hospital and 182-bed Monongalia General Hospital in Morgantown.
The hospitals' task force is composed of board members, physicians, administrators, department heads and managers from all five facilities. The task force said it plans "to assess the benefits of various organizational structures and evaluate issues such as improving patient care, structure, governance, cost-efficiency and managed-care strategies."
The participating hospitals said they will continue to be governed by their local boards of trustees and will operate under their current names. They said they do not plan to merge and will be open to additional not-for-profit members in the future. A decision on how to organize the system is expected this summer.
"These hospitals are working cooperatively to continue local governance, charitable care and community service, yet achieve the economies demanded by purchasers of healthcare services," said A. Michael Perry, a trustee at St. Mary's.
The hospitals' decision to ally mirrors the efforts of other not-for-profits in the state.
Last October, the state Legislature approved the formation of West Virginia United Health System, a not-for-profit regional network created by 334-bed Ruby Memorial in Morgantown and 312-bed United Hospital Center in Clarksburg. Ruby is operated by a state-run university.
Since then, the Federal Trade Commission has given its green light to the deal. The hospitals are now awaiting word from the state's Health Care Cost Review Authority, which must OK changes in hospital ownership. Final approval is expected in a month.
Bill Case, a spokesman for Ruby Memorial, said he's not surprised by the talks between the other hospitals. "They're facing the same kinds of competitive pressures from for-profits as we are," he said.
Nashville-based Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., an aggressive for-profit chain, now owns five hospitals in the state, including 200-bed Saint Francis Hospital in Charleston.
Case said no plans are on the table for the two new not-for-profit systems to join.