Hospital merger group reveals key concerns ahead of public meeting

BLOUNTVILLE, TN (WJHL)  – After weeks of gathering community input on a proposed merger of the region’s two hospital systems, a key group is ready to take the next step.

Tonight, an Advisory Group will present its recommendations for oversight of the proposed merger of Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health Systems.

News Channel 11 found the State published the Index Recommendations before the meeting.

Before the companies can get state permission to merge, state law requires the Tennessee Department of Health to develop guidelines which will dictate what the merged company should be like and what it must do in order to succeed.

The newly released document reveals key concerns which include whether the merged company will close facilities and what impact that will have on communities, whether physicians not employed by the merged company will have access to hospitals, and how the merged company will be held accountable for its promise of reducing costs.BetterTogether

After all, the merged companies would create a hospital monopoly in the Tri-Cities. Even the Federal Trade Commission has indicated the deal might not be good for people who live here and depend on the companies for care.

But Mountain States and Wellmont insist the deal will improve local health care. To prove it, they’ll submit themselves to the public process of applying for a Certificate of Public Advantage. And they’ve agreed to follow rules established through the COPA which Tennessee and Virginia will use to oversee the merger in hopes of guaranteeing public benefit. In Tennessee, that oversight would be conducted by the Tennessee Department of Health.

Tonight, the group is taking comments on the “index measures” which will be sent to the Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner.  The guidelines were developed after four public meetings in which the public could make comments about the proposed merger.

The guidelines submitted by the advisory group cover things like measure of population health, access to health services, and ways the local economy impacts access to care.

According to the State, the recommendations are just that – recommendations; the state rules require that the Commissioner have the final word – not only on whether the merger takes place but also on how its success or failure would be measured.

Meanwhile, the State of Tennessee hasn’t yet ruled the both companies’ application for a COPA as complete. The Department of Health is still asking questions about the specifics of the deal. Mountain States and Wellmont said they hoped to merge this summer. But recently they acknowledged questions from the state mean that won’t happen – likely until the first of next year.

Copyright 2016 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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