Hospital systems merger won’t close by the summer as expected

TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) – The proposed merger of the region’s two hospital systems likely won’t happen by the end of summer as planned. That admission came Friday from the head of Mountain States Health Alliance.

The state of Tennessee continues to ask Mountain States and Wellmont Health System questions about their application for state approval to merge, a plan unveiled more than a year ago.

But for the deal to happen, the companies have to prove it would be good for the people of the Tri-Cities region, despite the fact the merger would create healthcare monopoly.

But within the last week top state health officials said the application submitted two months ago lacks the depth required for the state to evaluate.

The state has to approve this application called the Certificate of Public Advantage or COPA or the two systems cannot merge.

Despite thousands of pages of information submitted by Mountain States and Wellmont, Tennessee health officials say they still need more proof a merger is a good idea.

“There’s nothing that we said in that application that we don’t have the evidence to support, or we wouldn’t have said it,” Mountain States CEO Alan Levine said.

The state says some of the information given by the systems so far “failed to substantiate stated benefits and commitments.”  

“When we submitted the application we were responding to the rule that was established, and in that rule there weren’t explicit directions about the level of evidence they wanted in the document itself,”Levine said.

Levine said the companies can prove the merger will improve health care in the Tri-Cities with on-going state oversight.

“We think there’s tremendous evidence that the advantages to this substantially outweigh any potential disadvantages and it’s up to us to put in the record,” Levine said.

Once the state rules the application is complete, the companies may have to wait four months, making their late summer target date no longer realistic.

“It’s going a little bit beyond what we thought it would but they want to get it right and we respect the state’s role in this,” Levine said.

He said if the state does not grant the COPA, the hospital systems won’t be able to continue business as usual.

“The status quo is not an option, it would be irresponsible for either system to just put our head in the sand and sort of keep things the way they are it just won’t work that way,” Levine said.

Mountain States and Wellmont plan to submit their response to all of the state’s questions in the next two weeks.

The state of Tennessee had some specific requests for more information from Mountain States and Wellmont. You can read that request here.

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