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Community has an interest in Forum's restructuring


Published: Sun, March 5, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


"James also took care to regularly update Baptist's staff on the progress of the turnaround. She used what she calls the 'rumor crusher' to get out accurate information quickly to employees who frequently hear gossip -- often inaccurate -- about management's intentions during the recovery."
That's an excerpt from an article in the December 2001 edition of Health Care Finance titled "The Art of the Turnaround (Reviving Baptist Health System)."
So why is a story about a San Antonio, Texas, hospital system of interest to people in the Mahoning Valley? Because Forum Health System, which operates the facilities of what used to be known as the Youngstown Hospital Association and Trumbull Memorial Hospital, is attempting its own turnaround.
It's of special interest because the fate of Baptist Health was placed in the hands of Wellspring Partners Ltd., the same Chicago-based consultant hired by Forum Health -- at a projected cost of $15 million in Forum's current budget -- to evaluate Forum's strengths and weaknesses and formulate a plan for the future.
Different time and place
But so far, Wellspring doesn't seem to be following the same game plan in the Mahoning Valley as it did in San Antonio.
For instance, Janice James, the interim chief executive officer referenced in the first paragraph of this editorial, not only took an active role as a "rumor crusher," she made it a point early on to "assure employees in the San Antonio community that the system would not close down Southeast Baptist, a 200-bed hospital located in a blue collar neighborhood of [San Antonio]."
And therein lies an important difference for the Mahoning Valley.
Among the unaddressed rumors regarding where Forum Health is headed with what has been described as a "radical restructuring" is the possible closure of forum's Northside Medical Center.
We realize that restructuring during times of financial pressure is difficult. And we realize that demanding transparency places an additional burden on a corporation.
But Forum is not a private company; it is a not-for-profit community health care system. And unlike a private company, Forum didn't build its physical plant alone. Hospital buildings were built in Youngstown and Warren over generations, in large part through public subscription campaigns that attracted big donations from Valley philanthropists and small amounts from tens of thousands of wage earners. Millions in federal money and local tax exemptions also went to Forum and its predecessors.
Not a stakeholder
Wellspring has no record of contributing to the Valley's health infrastructure. It only has a contract -- worth more than 3 percent of Forum's gross annual income -- that encourages it to focus on the bottom line.
One of the values in Forum's mission statement reads: "We will balance our priorities equally among patient care, community commitment, financial health and physician and employee well-being."
But so far in Wellspring's restructuring of Forum, the community and the employees in the Mahoning Valley have been pretty much out of the loop.
Employees and unions are obviously concerned about Forum's future, and it is likely that more will be heard from them. It is incumbent on community leaders to demand that if radical changes are envisioned for Youngstown's primary nonsectarian health care provider, the public ought to know what's in the works.
There is a 125-year history behind what is today Forum Health. A part of its history and its future belong to everyone in the Valley.


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