Many rural hospitals in Texas are on the ropes.
In fact, there have been 20 rural hospital closures in Texas in the last six years, including the hospital in Weimar.
The Weimar hospital closed its doors in August of 2012 and reopened in August 2015 under new ownership only to close again in November of 2016. The hospital reopened yet again in February of 2017, and then closed again in the fall of 2017.
When CHI St. Joseph Health announced in February that it was ending its lease agreement, the Bellville Hospital District suddenly found itself in danger of becoming number 21
“It wasn’t necessarily a shock. A little bit of a surprise? Yeah,” said Tony Causey, the President of the Bellville Hospital District. “(CHI St. Joseph) seemed to be invested in the community … I just don’t know if Bellville really fit into their model. I wish they’d have given it a little bit more time.”
“When that lease was terminated, we looked around for another partner and no one could do it,” Anne Frank, chairman of the Bellville Hospital Foundation Board, the district’s fundraising arm. “So, the district board said, we will try to do this ourselves.”
On Monday, the district will hold a town hall meeting in the auditorium at Bellville High School. Ford will moderate the panel discussion, which is open to everyone.
“We want to inform the public about where we’ve been, where we’re going and how we’ll get there,” she said. “We’re really hoping to have a lot of people show up for it.”
She said the Bellville Hospital District Board and the Bellville Hospital Foundation Board want to be as transparent as possible about the future of the facility.
“It’s going to be on the district to make this work,” said Frank. “It’s going to be a challenge. The community has to support it, if this is to work.”
The lease with CHI St. Joseph Health expires May 6.
In the meantime, the district has contracted with ERH II, LLC, a Utah limited liability corporation who specializes in managing rural hospitals.
ERH leases, manages and owns select acute care hospitals with a focus on helping distressed and underperforming hospitals in turnaround situations. Currently, they manage the operations of five rural hospitals in Utah, Nevada and Georgia.
ERH will handle the administration of the hospital under the board’s oversight. As Ford put it, ERH “… has no skin in the game. They are a management team only.”
Joining Ford on the stage Monday will be a panel of speakers including Causey, BHD owns the land and hospital, including the adjoining professional medical building.
Juanita Romans will be introduced to the assembly and she will also be on the panel of speakers. Romans, representing TRG Group, has experience working with Houston’s Hermann Hospital. She will serve as CEO of the hospital and function as on-site hospital administrator.
Another panelist will be Larry Hancock, representing ERH Healthcare.
Dr. Don R. Bosse, MD, will also participate and will be available to answer questions.
Causey said he has been making the rounds talking to key leadership in the district about the future of the hospital.
“We’ve had overwhelming support from the community, including some folks from Sealy and the south of the county,” he said. “Without exception, both leaders and citizens not only understand the importance of the hospital and local quality healthcare, but also fully support efforts to continue to provide services in a very difficult rural healthcare market.”
CHI St. Joseph Health cited declining patient volume and reduced rates as major reasons for its decision to withdraw from Bellville.
In a press release, the group noted that “… it has been increasingly difficult to create a sustainable model of rural healthcare in the community. With Bellville and Austin County’s proximity to Houston and Katy, the community has access to many healthcare options.”
According to the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals, the upswing in Texas closures is primarily driven by $50 million a year in Medicare cuts to Texas rural hospitals starting in 2013, as well as a $60 million a year underpayment by Texas Medicaid.
“There will be a two to three-month period where it will be pretty dicey,” Ford admitted. “We do have our foundation board and it’s a substantial, strong board. Hopefully, we also have the support of the community.”
“We’re pretty excited about the prospects of going it alone, irrespective of reimbursement rates,” said Causey. “We want to be a statistic on the positive side.”