Health Care

Union Reps Encouraged After Meetings with Steward

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Two officials from unions representing employees at ValleyCare Health System of Ohio hospitals left meetings today encouraged by what awaits under the proposed new ownership – including indications that Northside Medical Center will remain open.

Today’s private meetings with staff and physicians at the three ValleyCare hospitals – Northside in Youngstown, Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren and Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland Township – followed yesterday’s announcement that Boston-based Steward Health Care LLC would buy the hospitals from Community Health Systems Inc. in Franklin, Tenn.

The sale of the ValleyCare hospitals and related assets is part of an eight-hospital purchase agreement between Steward and CHS, which also includes Sharon Regional Health System in Sharon, Pa.

Laurie Hornberger, president of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association, reported following the meeting that Dr. Michael Callum, Steward’s executive vice president for physician services, assured staff at Northside that there was no plan to close the Youngstown hospital.

The association president, who has been a staff nurse for seven years at Northside, added the employee town-hall meetings were “upbeat and positive,” leaving her encouraged about the new ownership.

“The nurses echo Steward’s enthusiasm of growing the hospital and developing a great relationship with the community. We’re hopeful to work with an employer who shares our commitment to quality patient care,” Hornberger said.

Debbie Bindas, staff representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Ohio Council 8, said employees who attended meetings at Trumbull Memorial and Hillside were also encouraged by what the potential new owners had to say. AFSCME represents nurses at both hospitals.

Steward believes it will take possession by the first week of May, she reported.

“The most exciting thing for us is the handcuffs are off of Steward,” Bindas said. CHS, as a publicly traded company, “was handcuffed to the stockbrokers,” she added.

Steward is a for-profit entity and has investors, but “seems to be a physician-run organization” that is interested in the clinical aspect of health care, Bindas said. That was an aspect that Community Health Systems moved away from because there were greater concerns about profits than “getting the job done and getting the job done well,” she said. Steward has committed to brining back the specialties that Trumbull Memorial and Hillside “had a reputation for excellence in,” she said.

“We’re hoping it’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow because we’ve been through so much,” going back to the difficulties with the former Forum Health leading to its bankruptcy and its purchase at auction by Community Health in 2010, she said.

The Steward officials also acknowledged restoring the hospitals to excellence will take time, she said.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.