By GRACE WYLER
Community Health Systems has emerged with an eleventh-hour offer to buy the bankrupt Forum Health.
The Tennessee-based health-care provider, which has 120 affiliated hospitals nationwide, submitted a formal offer Monday, just one day before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court’s 5 p.m. deadline today.
The only other bidder to date has been Ardent Health Services, which has agreed to purchase Forum for $69.8 million. An auction is scheduled to take place Thursday.
Community Health would not disclose the details of its offer, but spokeswoman Tomi Galin said the bid, submitted by Community Health-subsidiary Youngstown Ohio Hospital Company, is “substantial.”
“We are very interested in the health system and its hospitals, and hopeful that we will be the successful bidder,” Galin said. “We are excited about the possibility of becoming a health care partner in the Youngstown community.”
If Community Health’s bid is successful, the company plans to keep Forum’s facilities open, Galin said. “Sister companies,” or subsidiaries of Youngstown Ohio Hospital Company, will purchase Forum’s major hospitals, Northside Medical Center in Youngstown, Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren and Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland, she said.
Galin added that Community Health is prepared to make capital investments of “at least $80 million” to fund facility improvements, information technology and physician recruitment at Forum’s hospitals.
Ardent, also based in Tennesee, has similarly promised to continue to operate Forum’s three main hospitals, and has said it will invest at least $70 million in capital investments.
Ardent’s proposal was approved Monday by Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who is required to review the proposed sale of any nonprofit entity.
Ardent did not respond to calls to comment Monday.
Cordray said in a press conference here that Ardent has indicated a commitment to carrying on Forum’s charitable mission to providing accessible, high-quality health care to the Mahoning Valley, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. If Community Health, or another bidder, wins Thursday’s auction, Forum must submit that proposal to the Attorney General for approval.
Cordray said that, though his office remains neutral, a second bid will “pose complications” because of the lengthy review process.
“Any other proposed transaction regarding Forum Health must undergo the same painstaking review process,” Cordray said. “[This] would mean inevitable delays for proceeding with any such proposed sale.”
Leaders from Forum’s unions expressed dismay at the Community Health’s potential bid.
The company has met several times with union officials in the past few weeks.
In a joint press conference Monday, union officials said Community Health has revealed little about its plans for Forum or its commitment to the community.
“None of us has been successful — there has been very little information coming from CHS,” said Deborah Bindas, a representative of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Ohio Council 8. AFSCME represents employees and nurses at Trumbull Memorial Hospital and Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital.
Union officials expressed concern over a history of labor disputes at Community Health-affiliated hospitals, including labor contract violations at facilities in Pennsylvania, Washington, New Mexico and California.
“There is not a very sound reputation with organized labor,” Bindas said.
“We are not certain that these folks are a good fit for our community, and certainly they’re not a good fit for our labor organizations.”
Anthony Caldwell, a representative for Service Employees International Union District 1199, which represents workers at Trumbull Memorial and Northside, added that the SEIU is troubled by what he called Community Health’s “trail of broken promises.”
After the bid was announced, union officials agreed that they will continue to negotiate with any party that submits a bid for Forum.
“We still remain willing and ready to meet with them or any potential bidder,” Caldwell said.