December 22, 2014

Elyria
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EMH sells half its interest in Amherst Hospital; lays off 25

ELYRIA — EMH Regional Healthcare System has sold a 50 percent stake in Amherst Hospital to a group of local physicians who practice out of the hospital.

The agreement, which creates a for-profit joint venture between EMH and the doctors, went into effect Sunday, said EMH CEO and President Dr. Don Sheldon.

The hospital will continue to do business as Amherst Hospital, and all services there will go on for the foreseeable future, Sheldon said Friday.

“From the outside looking in, operations will be very much the same,” Sheldon said. “EMH will manage the hospital, and employees will work for EMH.”

The agreement went into effect right before sweeping health care reform was signed into law by President Barack Obama. Provisions within the legislation prohibit such for-profit partnerships in the future, which forced the timetable on the venture to be accelerated.

“This move is part of EMH’s overall mission to succeed through collaborations with its physicians in the community,” Sheldon said. “Hospital-physician joint ownerships, studies have shown, actually work to increase the quality of care, increase patient satisfaction and lower health care costs.”

Attorneys for the physician group, the Center for Orthopedics, declined to comment. The office manager for the practice, which consists of doctors William Stanfield, Robert Berkowitz, John Krebs, Robert Zanotti and Daniel Zanotti, said Friday the doctors wanted all comments to go through EMH.

Amherst Hospital has 60 beds and five operating rooms. The Center for Orthopedics mainly uses it for the weekly Joint Camp at the hospital. There, patients that need hip, knee, foot, ankle or shoulder surgery begin together as a group on Sundays, have individual surgeries on Mondays and begin physical therapy together on Tuesdays before being discharged on Thursdays.

That cost-efficient servicing holds promise for EMH, Sheldon said.

“Physicians come to hospitals but are often independent of hospitals, not thinking of ways to streamline operations. But when doctors have a stake in the hospital, they start paying attention and watching the bottom line,” he said. “We very much believe that the efficient processes learned and developed at Amherst Hospital will be easily transferred to operations at EMH.”

Unrelated to the venture, EMH also announced Friday that it had laid off 25 employees, including six full-timers and 19 part-timers. Twenty-three employees also have had their hours reduced.

The cuts were spread through the EMH system and are mainly from support staff, Sheldon said.

Kids Care Express, an after-hours pediatric clinic created to alleviate the burden non-critical cases place on the emergency room, has been discontinued and after-hours pediatric patient care is being reincorporated into the emergency room.

Kids Care Express opened on the fifth floor of the Smythe Tower in early 2009. A pediatric nurse practitioner working at the clinic was the first who diagnosed the first confirmed case of H1N1 flu in the state.

Sheldon said the decision to close Kids Care Express was not an easy one, but it was done because the service could be performed elsewhere without jeopardizing patient care.

Sheldon said the layoffs are partly because of an increase to Ohio’s hospital franchise fee, which the state increased to help balance the 2010-11 state budget. This meant the hospital paid $1.7 million more in 2010 than in previous years, Sheldon said.

Also, Sheldon said the recession has resulted in higher unemployment and more patients without health insurance seeking medical care in the emergency room. This has caused the amount of uncompensated patient care to increase from $14 million in 2005 to a projected $31 million for 2010.

“There is no question that because of the economy and because of the state hospital franchise fees, nowhere near this many layoffs would be needed,” Sheldon said. “But in the end, we have a business we need to keep financially solvent.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.