By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
The chief executives of Scott & White Memorial Hospital and Metroplex Health System assured an overflow crowd at the Killeen-Heights Rotary Club's regular Friday morning meeting that they're eagerly awaiting finalization of plans for the alliance between the two hospitals.
The plan for Temple-based Scott & White to acquire 32 percent of Killeen's Metroplex Hospital is currently a nonbinding agreement following negotiations that began last summer. Officials are hoping to sign papers by the end of March.
Tongue-in-cheek, Dr. Alfred Knight, Scott & White chief executive officer, said, "We've got to get on those lawyers and make this happen." Actually, at a news conference in September, Metroplex CEO Ken Finch estimated a timeline of six months.
Finch and Knight, speaking in turn, went into some detail about the plan, the benefits of which for Killeen will be expanded capacity to meet the needs of western Bell County's growing population.
Finch said Metroplex, a branch of Adventist Health System, would not do anything to compromise its essential nature as a religious mission for the sake of any partnership.
"We would never answer to a board in some far-off place merely seeking to increase profits," Finch said. "But we have an aging staff, among other limitations, and we need to bring in more physicians and more specialists. We'll get badly-needed expanded emergency facilities."
Knight said Scott & White now has four hospitals and 25 clinics in Central Texas. The hospital plans to build a hospital in Marble Falls and take over management of one in Llano, but he said the expansions would not negatively affect Metroplex in Killeen or its satellite, Rollins Brook Hospital, in Lampasas.
Scott & White seeks to strengthen its flagship Temple hospital as a research and teaching facility with the location of Texas A&M University's full four-year medical school there next year.
"Our vision and Metroplex's are similar, and our values are virtually identical," Knight said. "We began a strategy 10 years ago to expand our influence in Central Texas, but the financial margins of a hospital are paper-thin. We have to build or partner, and a partnership benefits all concerned."
One sticking point with physicians has been the difference in the relationships of doctors to the hospitals. Metroplex's doctors are independent, while Scott & White's are members of groups employed by the hospital.
In December, Dr. Adolph Mares Jr., Metroplex chief of staff, resigned because he thought the less expensive Scott & White arrangement would lead to the end of private-practice physicians in Killeen. The agreement calls for Scott & White physicians, including specialists, to work in Killeen alongside private-practice doctors.
Knight said, however, that doctors are beginning to prefer getting rid of increasingly complex business duties.
"Medicare regulations alone are three feet thick," Knight said, "and you're violating the law if you don't follow them. In a group with a separate business office, doctors still have to follow the law, but somebody else digests it all for them and handles the paperwork. The group focuses on integration of care. Doctors make less money, and they have to conform more. But there's a growing desire not to have to deal with the business end."
Finch said, though, that there are no plans to end Metroplex's current private-doctor system as it is now.
"What we'll see is more doctors full time, from Scott & White, and more local specialty care," Finch said. "We can accept more health plans, and we'll have a new administration building. We'll have more patient satisfaction, and we'll be able to continue with our Christian mission."
Knight said the growing community needs growing service.
"We'll have greater ability to provide the right care at the right place at the right time," he said. "It can take two years to recruit the right professional staff, but we'll have an improved pipeline to the smaller towns."
Knight said relationships with Fort Hood's Darnall Army Medical Center and the Department of Veterans Affairs would not change. There had been some question about whether Metroplex could still afford to take the government's Tricare insurance, which covers soldiers and their families, but Finch said the issues had been resolved.