The pending, $131 million sale of Emanuel Medical Center to Tenet Healthcare Corporation has the complete support of the Turlock community – if public comment at a Friday hearing is any indication.
Commenters were universally in favor of Emanuel Medical Center's sale to Tenet, saying the transaction would guarantee the future of Turlock's hospital.
“We are here today asking for the approval of this transaction because it continues Emanuel Medical Center's mission to serve healthcare needs,” said Art De Rooy, President of the Emanuel Medical Center Board of Directors.
The hearing was organized by the State Office of the Attorney General, which must review and authorize the sale of any hospital. The review is intended to ensure that access to healthcare is not lessened by the sale.
According to Jeff Koury, Senior Vice President of Operations for Tenet Healthcare Corporation's California region, the sale will actually improve access to healthcare by leveraging the power of Tenet's hospital network.
“Quality is at the core of everything we do and every decision we make,” Koury said. “Our mission as a company is to improve the quality of life of every person who walks through our doors.”
The sale would transfer all Emanuel Medical Center assets save for cash, some religious artifacts, and four non-hospital operations: Brandel, Cypress, Hospice of Emanuel, and Jessica's House. Emanuel, operating under a new name as “EMC Health” would continue to operate Hospice of Emanuel and Jessica's House, while Covenant Retirement Communities West would inherit Brandel and Cypress.
Per the terms of the agreement, Tenet would continue to operate the hospital as a full-service general acute care hospital. Intensive care, cardiac care, emergency care, pediatrics, obstetrics, orthopedics, cardiology, and oncology would remain for at least ten years, with the open heart surgery program remaining for at least three years.
Tenet has also committed to maintain Emanuel's faith-based legacy of care. That includes the previously murky subject of abortion services; though California law ensures Emanuel cannot bar Tenet from performing abortions following the sale, Tenet has committed to continue the hospital's current practice.
“We don't expect this to result in any material changes to the services currently provided at Emanuel Medical Center,” Koury said.
The sale would see Emanuel Medical Center operated under the license of Doctors Medical Center of Modesto, which is also owned by Tenet. Emanuel would appoint the vice chair of the combined governing board, and have at least three community residents and a nearby physician on the board as well.
And most importantly to doctors and staff, the hospital will have access to new resources and additional funding. Tenet has committed to spend $30 million over the next five years to improve the hospital – a welcome change from the current situation, where funding shortfalls have prevented Emanuel from purchasing desired equipment and technology services.
“It's very difficult to run a hospital on a negative deficit of money,” said Emanuel physician and former chief of staff Dr. Tom Wilson.
Letters in support of the sale were submitted on behalf of the NAACP and Turlock Mayor John Lazar. Lazar's letter, read by Turlock Vice Mayor Bill DeHart, spoke of how how the partnership would improve access to care and the quality of service across the region.
“Emanuel Medical Center is a special place,” the letter read. “It really has a heart. The staff and physicians are caring, and are an essential part of our community.”
Only two marginally negative comments were made during the hour-long meeting.
Eileen Hamilton, a Turlock Unified School District Trustee, asked if the cost for service would increase after the sale. The remark came during an otherwise-positive comment, where Hamilton spoke of the importance of the Emanuel Cancer Center to Turlock; when Hamilton's husband was passing from cancer, before the Emanuel center's construction, he had to go to Modesto for treatment on a near-daily basis.
Frank Muratore, a former Modesto City Councilman, said he invested a “substantial amount” in a tax-free bond issue made by Emanuel Medical Center, and was concerned how the change from non-profit to for-profit ownership might effect the investment. But regardless of the potential changes to his investment, Muratore still supported the sale.
“I recognize the need for good medical care on a regional level,” Muratore said. “… Whatever change I have to make, I will make.”
Much remains to be determined about the hospital's future.
Employees acknowledged that some current practices must change. But some looked forward to the changes, taking advantage of the wealth of institutional knowledge developed by Tenet properties across the country.
“This is what I know for sure, we aren't done with our work here yet,” said Beth Adams, an Emanuel Medical Center Nurse.
An opportunity still remains to comment on the proposed sale. Written comments may be submitted by 12 noon on Monday by emailing Wendi.Horwitz@doj.ca.gov.