Creditors or obstructionists?

The people of the Mahoning Val- ley should be appalled at the spectacle unfolding in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Cleveland, where the creditors who couldn’t wait to drag Forum Health into bankruptcy now seem intent on dragging out the process.

Meanwhile, millions of dollars that could be spent on providing better health care to the residents of Mahoning and Trumbull counties are being consumed by the lawyers, consultants and the myriad costs of the bankruptcy process. (Is there anyone in the Mahoning Valley who hasn’t gotten a first class letter — or two or three — from the court by now?)

We’ve criticized the boards of Forum Health — past and present — for past decisions that ranged from bad to awful. They spent too much building some assets, got in over their heads and sold some of their best hopes for future growth. They also overspent for outside consultants and interim CEOs. But it can be argued that their enablers were the same big-time investors who are now demanding that they be made whole, everyone else be damned.

The creditors are questioning whether the sale of Forum Health to Ardent Health Services is in the investors’ best interest. They’re filing motions that, to an outside observer, seem intent on delaying the sale.

Deadlines are set

Judge Kay Woods has set an Aug. 5 deadline to submit bids to buy Forum and an Aug. 9 deadline for filing exceptions to the sale.

Ardent has said it is prepared to buy and operate Forum, which includes Northside Medical Center in Youngstown, Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren and Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland. The growing Tennessee-based hospital chain also says it’s prepared to invest as much as $50 million in improving facilities here.

It is sad to see a hospital system that was 125 years in the making sold off, and certainly there are risks to the community in any sale. There are some of us who will always suspect that the CEO forced out by the creditors, Walter Pishkur, could have turned Forum around if given more of a chance.

But this bankruptcy has stretched over 16 months, and unless the creditors can produce a better buyer than Ardent, Judge Woods should stick to her timetable and approve the sale.

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