Wellmont chairman: calls to stay local "shows a lack of true und - KCTV5

Wellmont chairman: calls to stay local "shows a lack of true understanding"

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Wellmont Health System just issued a response to the call for the health system to remain in local hands, possibly through a merger with competitor Mountain States Health Alliance.

Here's the full letter sent to Wellmont employees from Board Chairman Roger Leonard:

Dear Wellmont Friends,

Over the last few days, it’s likely you’ve heard a more public discussion about the future of Wellmont and our board’s search to determine the right, best path for our health system and the patients and families we serve.

It’s good to see a healthy discussion about this serious and important subject. You’ll recall it was just two weeks ago that we announced the latest phase in our work and wanted to hear from the community. Since then we’ve launched a website to educate and invite discussion – more than a thousand folks have already visited forwardwithvision.org – and we have met one-on-one and in small groups with dozens of community members. We’re getting together with physicians, nurses and staff throughout the system next week and following, as well.

In all our discussions, I’ve been encouraged to find a common desire to ensure Wellmont is positioned to thrive in its service to our community for generations to come.

No doubt, you’ve also heard of some community members who are hosting a public forum next week to talk about the future of Wellmont. We welcome all reasonable discussions on this critical topic.

Unfortunately, some members of this group have labeled the discussion as an effort to “save” our hospitals. As a board member, a long-time resident and as someone who has been personally impacted by the great care our hospitals provide, I can tell you that our hospitals do not need “saving.”

Instead, because of the exceptional care that you provide, because of the high quality service that you offer, Wellmont is positioned to have a vibrant, prosperous future. The opportunities before us are tremendous. To suggest otherwise is disrespectful to our physicians and employees and the superior care you provide every day.  It shows a lack of true understanding of who we are, how healthcare is changing and what we hope to achieve through our process to plan for the future.

It’s disappointing to see some in the community conclude the best direction for Wellmont without understanding the options, the challenges and the opportunities before us. Our future is bright. Our job as a board – the work we’ve been doing over the last year and the hard work to come – is to make sure we choose not the convenient path, but the best one for our patients and our region.

I’m excited about the dialogue we’ve having and the opportunity to explore this. I and members of the board look forward to talking with you soon about it.

I did not want for the rhetoric of a few to go unaddressed, especially when it impacts thousands of our own employees and physicians.  I hope you’ll join us for the town halls taking place across the system over the coming weeks for all employees and physicians. You are truly the fabric of our organization, and your opinion is incredibly important to us. I hope you’ll also continue to share your questions and thoughts on our new website: forwardwithvision.org.

I’m honored to be a part of this great organization, and I hope you are, too.  I’m in awe of the truly life-changing work you do, day-in and day-out.  I’m confident that the future we are working toward will allow us to be even stronger than we are today.

Roger Leonard
Chairman, Wellmont Health System Board of Directors

community leaders are pushing to keep Wellmont Health System's Hospitals in local hands.

Bill Greene, successful banker, philanthropist, and supporter of higher education has come out against Wellmont aligning with a hospital system from outside the region. Greene said it's time for competitors to be partners and do what's right for the Tri-Cities.

“It's not a purchase. We're talking about a merger, an alignment. So what we're doing is we're very carefully doing due diligence on all of our potential merger partners,” said Roger Leonard, Chair of Wellmont's Board of Directors. Wellmont officials announced last month that the list of potential partners had been narrowed to three.

“They like to use the term ‘strategic alliance.' That's kind of a political spin on ‘we're for sale,'” Greene said.

Greene said the mismanagement of local health care systems Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System have led to a back-and-forth mentality, each one trying to outdo and outspend the other. He said that has led to the two systems being the most expensive hospitals in the state of Tennessee. Greene suggested this could change if the two merge and streamline their services.

“Let's just have a ten member board of which Mountain States puts five members on it, Wellmont puts five members, and they hire the best CEO in America that's not trying to retire,” Greene suggested.

Officials with Mountain States admitted they've had informal talks of a merger, but Wellont's board has refused to talk about potential partners.

“We have non-disclosure agreements with our potential merger partners. So we can't say whether or not they're a party,” Leonard said.

Greene said he doesn't understand why this hasn't been an open process. “Why do we have this non-disclosure/confidentiality agreements? We're the community… We own these hospitals, let's put everything on the table and throw those away.”

He said because these hospitals are not for profit, they are community owned, and the community needs to take back control of their health care. “We want the med school to be enhanced with research dollars. We want our own control. We want our own board. We want our own CEO, and we want to operate out of here. We as us, the community,” Greene said.

A community forum is scheduled for Monday, August 18th, on the future of Wellmont Health System.

Greene told us, he'll be joined by ETSU President Brian Noland at the forum, as well as other influential community members.

Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips has urged the public to attend the forum. He identified three options for Wellmont:

- Remaining independent, something Wellmont's board has said isn't possible

- Merging or selling to an out of the area large health care company

- Merging with Wellmont competitor Mountain States Health Alliance to form a $2 billion locally managed company

The forum is Monday at 5 p.m. at the Kingsport Center for Higher Education.

Chair of Wellmont's Board of Directors Roger Leonard said the health care group will also be planning community forums to get feedback from the public.

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