By Olga Pena
Killeen Daily Herald
Speculation surrounding a "joint venture" between Scott & White and Metroplex hospital to expand the level of services provided at the Killeen hospital has a group of Metroplex doctors upset about the prospect and the way apparent negotiations are being handled.
Executives for both hospitals confirmed Thursday that "talks" between the hospitals in Temple and Killeen are ongoing but that no final agreements have been made.
"Metroplex and Scott & White have been talking literally for years to enhance services in Killeen, to provide more choices and expand services for patients," said Dr. Alfred B. Knight, president and CEO of Scott & White Memorial Hospital. "We are still just talking. We can't speculate on what ultimate agreements might come from our discussion."
Knight said talks have been more prevalent in the past two months to include meetings with the leadership of both hospitals. He also said that, at the request of Metroplex officials, there are now Scott & White general surgeons assisting in the staffing of Metroplex' emergency room.
Ken Finch, CEO of Metroplex Hospital, confirmed Knight's statement.
"They have been helping us with some of our surgery coverage in general surgery," Finch said. "There have been some discussions going on with Scott & White and Metroplex about ways we might collaborate and work together to serve the community."
Finch, like Knight, said they are holding preliminary talks and considering options, but no agreements have been finalized.
While the executive leadership of both hospitals acknowledge discussions of a joint venture, a group of physicians with practices based at Metroplex are troubled that talks of an "affiliation" are being conducted without the involvement of the Metroplex Hospital governing board or medical staff.
"They are doing this behind our backs," said Metroplex-based physician Dr. William Louis.
Louis said word initially spread about Scott & White buying 30 to 50 percent of Metroplex and taking over the cardiology department following an anonymous fax being sent to an Austin Heart cardiologist. Austin Heart is a physicians group with offices throughout Central Texas.
The fax includes two pages of a document titled, "Proposal for Cardiovascular Services at Metroplex," detailing staffing and services that would be involved in a joint venture. Louis said the fax was sent by a Scott & White cardiologist who wants no part in the venture.
Austin Heart cardiologist Dr. Mathew Phillips said he received an anonymous fax detailing a proposal for cardiovascular services at Metroplex but did not know who sent it.
"I have no idea who sent it quite frankly. My understanding from Finch is that it was written by someone at Scott & White," Phillips said. "We received it and it prompted us to say, 'Gee, are you guys talking?'"
Louis said that two weeks ago, the medical staff was told that negotiations were ongoing but nothing was definite.
"They didn't want us to feel anxious about it," Louis said. "Supposedly they say negotiations are still going on, but others are saying this deal is done."
The proposal Phillips received, which the Herald acquired through another source, states that the leadership division of cardiology and the department of medicine are offering a proposal for establishing cardiovascular services in the Killeen metropolitan area in conjunction with the overall Scott & White strategy of western regional expansion.
"As written, this proposal is based on the key assumption that Scott & White and the Adventist System successfully consummate the joint venture of Metroplex Hospital now being discussed," the proposal states. "However, should this venture not occur the major elements of this proposal would remain intact, but the business structure revised to shift all non-cath lab testing to the outpatient environment with facilities and equipment in a Killeen located, Scott & White operated clinic."
Finch said he has seen the proposal but doesn't not know who specifically sent it, nor would he confirm that any such joint venture has been discussed in such detail.
Finch said the speculation is that the document came from Scott & White and that it seems to be something internal from the Temple hospital.
"It's not something that we are discussing. That was very premature," Finch said. "We're not to that kind of level of discussion."
Not 'selling out'
When asked about Metroplex being bought out, Finch said that being taken over or selling out has never been a consideration.
Metroplex is managed by the Adventist Health Systems – the 10th largest health system in the country, Finch said.
"Our purpose in this community is mission-driven and as a Christian organization, we have to own and operate in order to do that," Finch said. "We have no intent of selling Metroplex. We are not even considering that. We are talking about ways to work together."
Knight also said that the sale of Metroplex is not the goal of the negotiations taking place for either party. He said it's an opportunity to come together to enhance services.
"Certainly, Scott & White is not taking over Metroplex," Knight said. "Metroplex is a very fine community hospital and has been very successful."
Finch said Adventist Health Systems, parent company of Metroplex Hospital, is the bigger player at the table and that Metroplex came to the table seeking ways to provide more services to patients at the local hospital.
"One of the motives that we have from the Metroplex side is to increase the services at Metroplex. AHS is saying, 'How can we get more services provided at Metroplex hospital?'"
While both hospital CEOs say the talks are for the betterment of care for Killeen residents, a group of doctors have voiced opposition – signing a lengthy letter to Metroplex leaders about their concerns.
Louis said the two hospitals have very different goals and ideas about patient care and Metroplex doctors are not happy about any joint venture. "We don't want this to happen," Louis said. "The management at Scott & White have different goals."
Louis provided a copy of the letter sent to Richard K. Reiner, president/CEO of the Adventist Health System; Peter M. Weber, CEO of Hughley Medical Center and chair of the Metroplex Board of Governors; Finch; and all 11 members of the Metroplex Hospital Board of Governors, which includes area residents of the community.
The letter states that it is unfair that knowledge of the "dealings" between the two hospitals was attained by chance, having a rumor verified by an anonymous fax to medical staff. It goes on to state that an Adventist Health System relationship with Scott and White will limit customer choice and that residents currently choose Metroplex over Scott & White's "cumbersome system."
"As you know, the Adventist Health Systems and Scott & White Clinic and Hospital System are currently undertaking joint venture talks to form an affiliation. It is apparent that AHS has been doing so without the 'fair process' of informing the Metroplex Hospital Governing Board, Metroplex Hospital medical staff or its leadership. This is to notify you that Metroplex Hospital medical staff are united and believe that an affiliation is not in the best interest of the hospital, the physicians and the community."
The letter, Finch said, is signed by about 40 members of the Metroplex staff.
The letter was also sent to Metroplex Board of Governors Henderson Garrett, Samuel Green, Jack W. Hemingway, Gary Jepson, Mary Kliewer, Les Ledger, James Lindley, Richard Proctor, Dan Anderson, Allen Cloud and Paula Lohse.
Both Knight and Finch say they will be transparent as negotiations progress and the public will be informed of any final agreement.
"We want the community to be excited about this," Knight said of the prospect of expanded services.
Finch agreed. "We think it's in the best interest of the community."
Contact Olga Pena at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7555