HUMILITY OF MARY HEALTH PARTNERS Contingency plan prepared St. E's to add rooms if Forum shrinks



Akron Children's Hospital will likely lease HMHP's new Boardman pediatric unit.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- St. Elizabeth Health Center plans to convert some private rooms to semiprivate and some offices to patient care rooms to accommodate an influx of new patients should Forum Health downsize or close its facilities.
St. Elizabeth would also move treatment of urgent care patients out of the emergency department to another part of the hospital, said Robert Shroder, Humility of Mary Health Partners chief executive officer and president.
"We don't want this to happen, but we wouldn't be doing the right thing by the community if we didn't plan and then have it happen," Shroder said Monday.
Shroder was referring to the results of a promised "radical restructuring" of HMHP's competitor in the Mahoning Valley, Forum Health.
Wellspring Partners, the consulting firm hired by Forum Health to achieve the financial turnaround, has projected losses of $60 million in 2006 if drastic cost-cutting measures are not taken.
Anything can happen
Dr. Keith Ghezzi, Forum's interim chief executive officer and president, has said everything is under consideration, ranging from the sale of parts of Forum Health to the downsizing or closing some portions, including Tod Children's Hospital. Dr. Ghezzi says Forum's bondholders are anxious because of the health care system's deteriorating cash position and could force the sale of some assets.
That kind of talk has caused HMHP to make plans on how to handle a likely deluge of new patients should Forum be significantly reduced.
"I'm not saying it would be pretty, but our contingency plan will handle whatever is thrown at us" in the short term, Shroder said.
Shroder noted that within the last decade, the number of hospitals in the Mahoning Valley has decreased from seven to four. Two are operated by HMHP -- St. Elizabeth in Youngstown and St. Joseph Health Center in Warren -- and two by Forum Health -- Northside Medical Center in Youngstown and Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren.
That translates to a "ton of bed capacity" that has been lost. There is now no excess bed capacity at St. Elizabeth or St. Joseph, he said.
But HMHP has long-term goals, some of which are scheduled to come to fruition next year, that will expand hospital bed capacity in Mahoning County.
Shroder said he is "pretty sure" that HMHP will lease the 20-bed pediatric unit on the seventh floor of its new 108-bed hospital in Boardman to Akron Children's Hospital. The Boardman facility is scheduled to open in July 2007.
Bed availability
Forum recently reported that the average daily patient census at Tod Children's was 10, and Wellspring used that as a reason for possibly moving Tod Hospital into the Northside Medical Center to consolidate and cut costs.
Also, an additional 40 to 50 patient beds will be freed up in October 2007 when Select Specialty Hospital moves out of St. Elizabeth and into its planned new facility, Shroder said.
Shroder said there will always be health care competition in some form in the Mahoning Valley and that there is room for two health care systems here.
But the key number getting lost in all of this, he said, is the growing number of uninsured. No hospitals can continue indefinitely to absorb the cost of uncompensated care.
"It is the major thing that needs to be addressed, and it is not something that can be solved locally. We as a society need to address it," Shroder said.
alcorn@vindy.com

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