Turning its back on a series of unsolicited offers, the Williamson County (Tenn.) Board of Commissioners last week passed a resolution that bars the sale of the county's profitable hospital, 109-bed Williamson Medical Center, in Franklin, Tenn.
For-profit and not-for-profit systems alike had been lining up to buy the facility after the hospital's own board proposed turning over the hospital to a joint venture co-owned by Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in Nashville.
The resolution passed by the 24-member county board not only prohibits an outright sale but also bars the type of joint venture with Vanderbilt that had been proposed.
The resolution sent a clear message that the commissioners, and the community, opposed selling the hospital or giving up county control of its operations.
"The hospital is not for sale," William Mott, a Williamson County commissioner, said simply.
The proposed joint venture with Vanderbilt prompted a host of competing offers for the hospital, which turned a $4.6 million profit last year on revenues of about $60 million.
Nashville-based Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. offered $75 million for Williamson Medical. Quorum Health Group, Brentwood, Tenn., and Tenet Healthcare Corp., Santa Barbara, Calif., also offered to buy the hospital or engage in joint ventures for unspecified amounts. A not-for-profit joint venture owned by Baptist Hospital and St. Thomas Hospital, two of Nashville's largest not-for-profit hospitals, also made a merger proposition.
But the resolution passed by the county commission didn't quite close the door on a partner for Williamson Medical. It would allow the hospital to participate in a joint venture if the county maintained majority control of the facility.
That provision sent the original bidders scrambling to rework their proposals.
"It certainly doesn't change our interest whatsoever," said Cheryl Read, spokeswoman for Columbia's MidAmerica Division. "If we think we've got something that would be appropriate and that they'd look at, we'd certainly get it to them."
The commission set July 2 as the date by which all proposals have to be received. It also authorized the hospital's board of trustees to hire an independent consultant to weed through the proposals, and set September as the time to consider the trustees' recommendations.
Vanderbilt plans to rework its proposal to conform to the new directives of the commission, said Wayne Wood, a Vanderbilt spokesman.
Under the original proposal, Vanderbilt and the county would have been equal partners in the joint venture.
"We will go back and alter our proposal so that it is congruent with what the board laid out," Wood said.
Williamson Chief Executive Officer Ronald Joyner said he does not see the commission's actions as shutting the door on a partnership.
"We have to do a little work and consider some alternatives," he said. "By no means has anything been derailed."