Oct. 31: Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. acquires Bethany Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.
Nov. 17: Columbia announces it may spin off three bunches of hospitals. Included in one of the groups to be sold: Bethany Medical Center.
Last hired, first fired.
Bethany's short tenure as part of the nation's largest hospital chain -- or the hospital's "15 minutes," as John Millard, Bethany's former chief executive officer, called it -- hardly gave the hospital a chance to gain its footing.
Bethany's new CEO, Columbia veteran Paul Herzog, said the hospital community already was going through "a certain amount of anxiety and uncertainty" with the Columbia takeover. "The recent news of possible spinoffs adds to the uncertainty our employees must feel."
Millard, who had been CEO for 30 years before retiring to serve Columbia as a consultant, said the news of the potential spinoff "came as a surprise. Not previously having been a part of Columbia corporation's culture, we're probably the least capable of interpreting its meaning."
But he said he thinks Bethany will find itself in a stronger position as part of the three Kansas City-area hospitals being spun off with the Pacific Group than it would have under any other scenario. "I take comfort in that," Millard said.
Indeed, it's possible that both the hospital and the community could end up stronger than before.
The community now has a $30 million conversion foundation that the state attorney general insists will go to serve the health needs of the disadvantaged in Wyandotte County, where the hospital is located. And Bethany is now part of an integrated local network that will be marketed together.
Plus, Herzog said, Bethany still will retain certain advantages from its Columbia family connection, however brief. Employee benefits and payroll administration are being converted to the Nashville standard. Columbia is dumping money into long-delayed capital upgrades and deferred maintenance.
And if the spinoffs occur, which Herzog insisted is not written in stone, the Columbia cousins will remain members of the group purchasing program.
Bethany isn't the only newly acquired hospital to get the sendoff. In Massachusetts, MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham had just hired a new CEO, Thomas Hennessy, who was settling in when he got the news.
MetroWest went through a fractious few years to bring Columbia in as the money-bags partner (July 14, p. 18), and one of Hennessy's tasks is to "settle down the chaos and get back to basic business."
Hennessy said it doesn't matter who owns the hospital as long as the owner provides capital and invests in operational quality.
One acquisition long in the works but not yet closed, a joint operating agreement between Columbia and University of Oklahoma Hospitals in Oklahoma City, will go forward.
"If the Oklahoma Supreme Court rules favorably, we expect it to take effect Jan. 1," said Jake Lowry, university hospitals spokesman. The court's permission is the only hurdle remaining to the deal. The hospital probably will be incorporated into Columbia's new West Group, which the chain is keeping.
With John Morrissey