Community Hospital merger talks off

CHRIS THOMAS

Acquisition discussions between Community Hospital and Centura Health have ended, hospital officials announced Monday.

The two entities have been in talks for the past four months about merging Community Hospital, located between Grand Junction and Fruita, into Centura's group of hospitals.

But Community's board of directors announced that those talks are now over, though it didn't say why.

"After thoughtful consideration and thorough due diligence, Centura Health and Community Hospital have agreed to discontinue merger discussions," hospital spokeswoman Karen Martsolf said in a statement. "Although this was a difficult decision, and one the Community Hospital Board of Trustees did not take lightly, the board has made the decision to remain independent."

Centura is the largest health care provider in the state, with 16 hospitals in Colorado and two in Kansas. The two closest Centura hospitals are in Durango and Frisco. The Centennial-based hospital network includes more than 6,000 physicians.

The two entities had been discussing entering into a "membership substitution" non-cash deal that called for the hospital chain, Centura, to take on the liabilities of Community Hospital and make the hospital a corporate member.

Under that kind of formation, an agreement would have left the hospital's board of trustees overseeing future plans and day-to-day operations, but final approval on any changes would be up to Centura.

Similar to St. Mary's Medical Center, Centura is a faith-based nonprofit health care network. It is sponsored either by Catholic Health Initiatives or the Adventist Health System.

Not long after the hospital opened its new facility in 2016, the $58 ¬†million, 60-bed hospital near G and 23¬Ĺ roads had been struggling with cash flow problems. To alleviate that, the hospital has tried to find ways around its financial issues by centering on improving efficiencies and putting off some added expenses, such as pay raises.

"Per the terms of our agreement, we can't discuss the matter further ... but we're looking forward to continuing on and staying independent," said Community's Chief Executive Officer Chris Thomas. "We've had a reasonably nice turnaround in the last six, eight months, really since the orthopedic docs joined us. We're just really seeing some tremendous growth, and we're looking forward to keep going."

Nearly a year ago, Rocky Mountain Orthopedic Associates spine surgeons Dr. Kirk Clifford and Dr. James Gebhard joined the hospital. They were followed a few months later by physicians at Western Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. Thomas said the hospital's bottom line has improved by about $7 million since 2016.

Those changes brought the hospital up to nearly 900 employees.

"Our 2019 numbers are up 37 percent over '18 already in the first two months of the year," Thomas said.

What the hospital will do to address its financial issues going forward are not yet known, but the board said the hospital still may be working with Centura on future endeavors.

"The entire (board) and leadership team at Community Hospital were impressed with the Centura Health organization and the great work they are doing across the state and region," Martsolf said.

"Likewise, Centura leadership respects the tremendous growth and physician partnerships that have been developed by the team at Community Hospital. Both parties remain open to discussing future partnership opportunities."

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