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Wednesday, 07 October 2009 15:38

Angel Medical continues to stand alone

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While neighboring hospitals count down the days until an affiliation is finalized, Angel Medical Center in Franklin continues to stand alone during a time when independent hospitals are becoming increasingly rare.

Angel Medical CEO Tim Hubbs said the small hospital is doing fine financially and is meeting its mission to serve the community. That said, an affiliation isn’t out of the question if the right one came along.

“That is something we always have to evaluate on an ongoing basis,” Hubbs said. “I don’t think they want to merge for the sake of merging. I think the sentiment is we want a strong local hospital.”

There can be financial benefits in a merger or affiliation with other hospitals, but it can also result in a loss of local control, Hubbs said. The two factors would have to be weighed when considering an affiliation.

“Can we get economies of scale and still have autonomy?” Hubbs said.

Roughly 70 percent of hospitals in North and South Carolina are part of a larger hospital system.

Haywood Regional Medical Center and WestCare, which serves Jackson and Swain counties, anticipate launching a new joint venture in January. The two entities will manage daily operations jointly, yet keep their assets and long-term balance sheets separate. The venture also calls for partnering with Carolinas HealthCare System, a conglomerate based in Charlotte with a network of 23 hospitals.

Angel was engaged in preliminary discussions of a merger with WestCare a few years ago, but it failed to materialize. Angel’s board of directors hesitated for fear of seeing some of their local medical services absorbed by Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva.

“We were afraid the focus would be in Jackson County,” Hubbs said. “We would like it to be in our best interest and not in the best interest of someone somewhere else.”

While Angel has an agreement with Mission Hospital in Asheville to house a medic helicopter at the hospital, there is no official partnership with Mission, Hubbs said. Angel was selected as a base for the medic helicopter largely for its strategic geographic location as a jumping off point for Mission to serve trauma patients in the far west.

Hubbs said no affiliations are on the table right now, but nothing is off the table either.

“I think they are receptive to things that make sense,” Hubbs said of Angel’s board of directors. “If we get to the point we can’t survive without it, then we’d have to consider it, but we are not there today.”

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