Physicians: Is CHS 'a slow-motion train wreck?'

It has been nearly one year since Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems rejected a group of physicians' takeover bid for Lutheran Health Network in Fort Wayne, Ind. At that time, physicians said LHN was in dire need of upgrades to improve quality of care and patient experience. Those upgrades are still needed, a group of physician advocates wrote in a recent op-ed in The Journal Gazette.

CHS became one of the largest for-profit hospital operators in the U.S. by acquiring smaller community hospitals. However, in an effort to improve its financial picture and pay down its debt, CHS has sold several hospitals in recent years and has deals in the works to divest additional facilities.

The hospital sales have helped CHS lighten its debt load, but it is not clear whether the divestitures will generate enough funds to adequately reduce the company's total debt, wrote William Cast, MD; Matthew Sprunger, MD; and J. Philip Tyndall, MD.

"And so, is Community in recovery mode or is this a slow-motion train wreck? It is hard to tell," wrote the physicians. "Debt costs can limit hiring, and it is ultimately the ability to replace retiring nurses and physicians; the ability over time to train teams to practice safe processes; and the ability to provide all of the new equipment people require that underpin quality."

The physicians noted there have been improvements at LHN in the last year, including some equipment upgrades. However, they said more investments in infrastructure and people are needed.

"Our scorecard reads that matters are not better and trending lower," wrote the physicians.

CHS intends to invest a total of $500 million in LHN, including a possible new medical campus to replace St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Wayne. However, the physicians claim that isn't enough. In an op-ed published last August, the physicians said CHS would need to invest nearly $800 million "to correct its missteps and return LHN to form."

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