By Linton Johnson
AnMed Health has a deadline of December 31 to decide whether to extend its affiliation agreement with Elbert Memorial Hospital, but local Hospital Authority Chairman Daniel Graves expects a decision to be announced much sooner, perhaps at the authority’s next board meeting on November 28. Graves said that while AnMed Health has not officially announced whether it will continue the partnership, Elbert Memorial Hospital is making strategic contingency plans as if the agreement will not be extended.
“For reasons that are beyond my control, I have to operate on the assumption that they will not be coming back,” Graves said. “We have to, as an authority, be prepared for any contingency.”
The Hospital Authority took action last month to hire consultant Bill Boling, who helped bring Elbert Memorial and Anderson, S.C.-based AnMed Health together in partnership five years ago. Graves said several potential affiliation partners have been identified, but the process is still in its early stages until AnMed Health makes an official decision. “While we have been actively negotiating with AnMed, we have also been actively seeking additional options for the sustained viability of our hospital,” he said. “That was a big component to the hiring of a consultant, who could not only help us with our negotiations with AnMed, but who could help us identify other options available to the hospital.” Graves said he is appreciative of the contributions AnMed Health has made to the local healthcare facility since their partnership was formed in 2012. “Quite frankly, without them assisting us in our day-to-day cash flow management, we could not have made it,” Graves said. “There have been many times where we had the cash coming in, but it wasn’t here yet, and we needed somebody to help us make ends meet until the cash came in.”
One factor that will drive AnMed Health’s decision, Graves said, is its own recent fiscal situation at its Anderson facilities. In September, AnMed Health agreed to pay $7 million in a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department to resolve allegations of submitting false Medicare claims. And last week, AnMed Health announced it was laying off 94 employees and eliminating 65 vacant positions, totaling about 4 percent of the healthcare system’s workforce. “I think any decision AnMed makes regarding Elbert Memorial will have less to do with us and more to them and their current needs,” he said. If AnMed Health does decide to end the partnership when it expires February 28, Graves said the community should know that Elbert Memorial Hospital is well positioned to financially weather an interim period between then and the start of any new affiliation.
“It’s really important to remember that due to AnMed’s efforts to help us solidify our revenue cycle, the county and the citizens of Elberton County’s commitment to us via tax revenue puts us in the strongest financial position we’ve been in the last five years to weather any transition period,” he said. “It’s important for our employees to know that our cash on hand is better, our collection rate is better, and virtually all of our financial metrics have improved, which puts us in a position to hopefully rise to any challenges we face over the next 10 months.”
Graves concluded, “One thing’s for certain: whether it’s with AnMed, whether it’s on our own, or whether it’s with a new affiliate, on March 1, we fully anticipate Elbert Memorial Hospital being open for business.”