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Forum union, operator talking



Published: Fri, February 5, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Don Shilling

Forum Health said it is talking to all parties interested in bidding for the system.

A Tennessee-based hospital operator is the only suitor for Forum Health that has opened discussions with one of its unions, a local union official said.

Ardent Health Services, which operates seven hospitals in three states, has been involved in “minor discussions” with the union, said Tom Connelly, who represents nurses at Trumbull Memorial Hospital.

“It’s just been a matter of who they are and getting to know each other. We have not had anything of substance in the form of negotiations,” said Connelly, president of Local 2026 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

As part of a bankruptcy reorganization process, Forum accepted bids in November from companies interested in acquiring its local hospitals.

The names of the bidders were not released, but Connelly discussed his dealings with Ardent because its interest in Forum has been revealed in media reports.

Connelly said Ardent is the only suitor that has approached his union, although he’s been told that Forum still is working on its own plan to reorganize the system without a sale.

Vince Bevacqua, a Forum spokesman, said executives are speaking with “all interested parties,” but he would not comment on any particular company.

“We’re not going to violate the confidentiality of the process until it’s completed. We’re not identifying any of the parties,” he said.

Ardent is based in Nashville, Tenn., and employs 7,700 people in that state as well as Oklahoma and New Mexico. It operates seven hospitals, a physicians group, health plan and laboratory.

Kevin Gwin, an Ardent spokesman, said the company is always looking for expansion opportunities, but he wouldn’t comment on any potential interest in Forum.

Bevacqua added that Forum is no longer discussing its deadlines regarding the bids.

Forum had set a deadline of Jan. 11 to decide whether it would sell its operations or submit its own plan of reorganization to the bankruptcy court. A few days before, however, it said no decision would be announced.

As Forum considers its options, it does face court-imposed deadlines. A key one involves having court permission to use the cash that it has on hand. The cash-collateral agreement was to expire in January, but Judge Kay Woods has extended it to Feb. 26.

Lance Ignon, a spokesman for Forum’s lenders, declined to comment on Ardent or the bidding process that’s under way.

Anthony Caldwell, a spokesman for District 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, also declined to comment. The union represents about 1,200 Forum employees.

Forum operates Northside Medical Center in Youngstown, Trumbull Memorial in Warren and Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland.

shilling@vindy.com


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