ETMC: Decision against renewing lease with Trinity hospital not made lightly

ETMC: Decision against renewing lease with Trinity hospital not made lightly
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TRINITY COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - The Texas Workforce Commission issued a press release last week that stated that East Texas Medical Center-Trinity will be laying off 60 people by August 1.

A press release from East Texas Medical Center stated that poor utilization and declining reimbursement rates were among the reasons for the health care system's decision to part ways with the Trinity Memorial Hospital District when its lease expires on Aug. 1.

"The decision to not extend or renew our lease with ETMC Trinity was an extremely difficult one," said Perry Henderson, ETMC's senior vice president of affiliate operations. "ETMC has leased this hospital for 20 years, so this decision is one we struggled with and did not make lightly. However, the reality of the situation is that due to changes in healthcare and low patient volumes at this facility, we can no longer afford to operate a hospital in this community."

The ETMC press release stated that declining reimbursements from payers like Medicare and Medicaid contributed to "unsustainable losses" at the hospital.

"The leadership team at ETMC is saddened to leave Trinity," Henderson said. "However, healthcare is changing, and we are working hard to make the changes needed to remain viable and continue our mission of care in East Texas."

ETMC will provide assistance to the approximately 60 employees that will be affected by the health care system's decision against renewing its lease of the Trinity hospital. The employees will be able to seek employment at other ETMC facilities or elsewhere, the press release stated.

Trinity County Judge Doug Page said Monday morning that he believes the pending layoffs are part of ETMC leaving the Trinity hospital and that new healthcare provider that takes over operation of the facility may re-hire the employees that are laid off, Page said.

"The mission of the Trinity Memorial Hospital District (TMHD) is provide health care for the TMHD community," Carlyn Bluis, the vice president of the TMHD Board, wrote to the City of Trinity. "This it has done through the many services provided at Trinity hospital with the rural health clinic, emergency department, lab, and radiology and hospital beds for in-patient care."

The letter stated that the hospital has been leased to and operated by the ETMC health care system since 1997. In February of 2015, ETMC notified the TMHD Board that it would not be renewing its lease and would cease operations when the lease expires on Aug. 1, 2017.

"Since that day, the TMHD Board has been working diligently to find a new partner to maintain the current hospital operations," the letter stated. "Contact was made immediately with the Texas organization for Rural and Community Hospitals seeking seek resources, as well as with several hospital corporations. After visits with several groups and many months of negotiation, a letter of intent was singed with Huntsville Memorial Hospital to lease and operate the Trinity Hospital effective November 1, 2016."

However, the letter also said that the TMHD Board got word from Huntsville Memorial Hospital in October of 2016 that it would not be signing a lease agreement and operating the Trinity Hospital.

"The TMHD Board hired consultants, explored every option, and visited with an additional four hospital groups," the letter stated. "All expressed interest and had high praise for the facility and staff. However, none wished to enter into a lease agreement - primarily because of the need for a significant capital infusion of funds."

The letter went on to say that the TMHD Board decided "for that same reason" that the "self management" of the hospital by the district wasn't feasible. Each of the interested parties projected that in the first year alone, $2.5 to $3 million would be needed to fund the hospital's operation during the startup phase, the letter stated.

The TMHD Board letter stated that the district does not have the borrowing capacity or the funds to operate the hospital during the startup phase.

"To maintain health care, the TMHD Board has continued the search for a group ore groups to operate the clinic, the emergency department, lab, and radiology," the letter stated. "Currently, the district is talking to two possible providers for these services. Although ETMC is providing the required legal notices to vendors and staff that the ETMC contracts will cease as of July 31, the TMHD is not announcing closure of the clinic, emergency department, lab, or radiology at this time. No final decision has been made about these vital services."

The letter stressed that the TMHD will continue its search for "viable partners for the use of the hospital beds." It will continue to maintain the building and the equipment inside it, so it will be available if a partner or partners are found to operate the hospital.

"The Board is committed to providing health care services and fulfilling its mission," the letter stated. "Once a plan has been finalized, further communication will be given."

However, some of Trinity's residents are still worried that they will be left without an emergency care facility.

"The ER here....a lot of people are going to be suffering," resident Greg Franklin said. "There's a lot of elderly out here that need immediate care."
Another resident said that he is worried about the health of his father if a new provider isn't found.
"My Dad's been sick since 1980," John Smith said. "He's got leukemia, and he's been having spells. They rush him back and forth to this hospital here because it's, you know, when something's bad, you know, you got to get him close. And, now with it closing, there's no chance of getting him to Huntsville."

According to the TWC's web site, under circumstances, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires companies to provide notice of plant closures or mass layoffs 60 days in advance. The site stated that the WARN Act is intended to protect workers, their families, and communities.

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