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Group looks at hospital solutions

Group looks at hospital solutions

August 10th, 2017 by Jenny Gray in Local News

NueHealth, owners of the Fulton Medical Center, has announced the hospital will close "by Sept. 22."

A group interested in keeping hospital facilities available in Callaway County is encouraged by Callaway County Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Director Bruce Hackmann's idea.

On Wednesday morning, he met with Callaway County commissioners, Fulton city officials — including Mayor LeRoy Benton, attorney Tom Riley and Tamara Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Callaway Chamber of Commerce. At the end of the session, they supported his idea to reach out to Centric Management Services, a firm in Georgia who informed him of a way the hospital might be preserved.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a community facility guaranteed loan available that could help purchase the Fulton Medical Center, scheduled to close by Sept. 22. This loan could be granted to a non-profit organization and would federally guarantee 90 percent of the loan amount.

"A bank would find that very attractive," Hackmann said.

City and county officials would pay an initial fee of about $10,000 to retain Centric, which would handle negotiations with the medical center's current owners, NueHealth (a Leawood, Kansas, investment firm). Negotiations with possible organizations to operate the hospital were mentioned: SSM Health (which opened a clinic in Fulton a year ago), Boone Hospital and the University of Missouri/MU Health.

Hackmann listed reasons why this USDA loan, which involves no taxing entities, could work.

"It would put control of the hospital back into the local community," he said. "It would put (the ownership) into a non profit."

Unlike for-profit hospitals, grants for non profits are more readily available, he said.

The overall fee to the consulting firm would be 1 percent of the purchase price, and while NueHealth has a $6 million price tag on the facility, a lower price could be negotiated. A successful sale of the facility for $4 million would require a $40,000 fee to the consultant, split 50/50 between the city of Fulton and Callaway County.

If negotiations can be completed quickly, Hackmann said it's possible Fulton Medical Center could stay open without interruption.

"The USDA will issue a letter of intent which we would take to Nue(Health) that would keep the doors open," he said.

Best of all, the community would have a hospital — a strong tool for economic development and community welfare — without a tax burden, he added.

"This gets all the talk about tax districts off the table," he said. "Nobody wants to do that."

Callaway County Eastern District Commissioner Randy Kleindienst said the thought of a closed hospital is disappointing.

"I'm really saddened that it might be gone," he said. "I think if we get in there with $20,000 each, that would be money well spent for our community. Something like this has a chance. I think we owe it to our people. If we're talking about that kind of money, I'm in the game."

Western District Commissioner Roger Fischer asked what the terms could include. Hackmann said at a 5.5 percent interest rate and a purchase price of $4 million, monthly payments might be $16,000 or so, or just above $204,000 yearly, paid by the non profit owner.

Fischer also suggested new purposes for the hospital in addition to emergency services, including hospice care and a substance abuse rehabilitation center.

Centric is a consulting company that provides services to health care entities including financing and capital.

Hackmann said other options still include NueHealth finding new ownership or creating a new urgent care center elsewhere which could have limited hours and services.

"But are we willing to settle for that?" Hackmann asked. "That's why I felt we needed to get together and talk about that."

The Fulton Medical Center is a 59,000-square-foot, 37-bed acute care hospital with a 4,000-square-foot medical building and 8.53 acres. The current asking price includes its hospital license, outpatient clinic, six-bed ER, 19-bed "GeriPsych" unit (specialized services for patients with dementia and Alzheimer's) and an 18-bed medical surgical unit. There are two operating rooms, a pharmacy, CT and MRI services, and a cafeteria.