The Future of Memorial, Will Novant Return to Negotiations?


What are the chances (really) of Memorial Health still securing a partnership agreement with Novant Health in North Carolina?  The idea of a deal has been discussed and negotiated for more than a year until Novant sent Memorial a memo on May 9 saying the deal was off.  Novant’s CEO put the blame on the Chatham County Hospital Authority, which by law holds the lease on Memorial grounds and its facilities and serves as the trustee for Memorial’s assets.

Wednesday, Memorial Health’s Board of Directors (which include several members of the Authority) met for the first time since Novant announced it was leaving the table.

And while board members expressed disappointment, they say the back story of why a partnership is needed may not be well understood by the community.

“Savannah needs this hospital, this is not “our” Memorial, it’s “everyone’s Memorial,” said Dr. Mark Murphy, who is a Memorial Health Board Member.  Murphy has written about the need for a partnership saying an influx of up to $300 million over ten years (which was what was promised in the Novant deal) could assure critical services.  He said Memorial is the safety net hospital and up to “25 percent of the people in Savannah under age 65 are uninsured.”  He says last year, the hospital lost up to $22 million to ensure service to indigent.  He said some of that was due to the state of Georgia’s refusal to expand Medicaid which left the state without millions of additional federal health care dollars.  He also says Memorial is one of the most important hospitals in south Georgia.  It’s the largest, it’s the area’s only trauma center and it the designated safety net facility.

“The objective was to complete this partnership so we could give our team the resources they need to take care of these patients because we’re struggling with that today,” Memorial CEO Maggie Gill told board members.

Board Chair Harry Haslam went a step further telling News 3 “We still need a partner and absent that, we will begin to either need subsidies from the taxpayer or or we will have to cut services.”

Right now, Memorial does not get city or county taxpayer money.  And the future of services and the facility’s 5,000 employees may hang in the balance.  ” I wish all 5,000 of them could be here to hear the comments because it’s very important in terms of the viability of Memorial and the services that we provide, ” said Memorial COO and Chief Nursing Officer Mary Chatman.  “We take care of patients that no one else in this area wants to take care of ..”

While Memorial board members want to see if it’s possible to revive the Novant deal, the Chatham County Hospital Authority says its responsibilities and concerns must remain.  “I’m committed to the long term future of Memorial,” said Dr. Dan Deloach who is one of the nine members of the Authority.  He reminded reporters and others present at the meeting that the Authority is an unpaid board appointed by the Chatham County Commission.

And while Novant blamed the Authority for the breakdown in talks, Deloach says partnership talks would have culminated in a 40 year lease for Novant and that the Authority not only has the right but the responsibility to ensure safety net services are not lost .  He read a letter from the Authority that talked about those concerns and indicated that other financial requirements outlined must be included in any modified or new lease. Those include making sure that up to $200 million dollars of bonds issued by Chatham County on behalf of Memorial Health several years ago, are paid back. “As trustees of Memorial’s assets, the Authority is eager to move forward with Memorial’s leadership for the long term betterment of our community,” said Deloach.

Memorial board members say that future is best served by only partnering with a non profit (such as Novant.)  They seemed to spurn at least one recent offer made in writing to the Authority by a “for” profit health group that wants to talk about a potential partnership.

Memorial board members and several present from the Authority seem to agree that everyone “needs to get on the same page” and that now “everyone is on the same page” for the sake of the facility and those it serves, especially those in need.

However, it was unclear who might make the move to try to resume talks with Novant. On that note, I reached out to Novant in North Carolina and received an emailed message from the health group’s public relations department indicating “We appreciate your questions concerning the Memorial Health partnership, but Novant Health does not have anything new to say publicly on the topic beyond the memo that went to Memorial on May 9. Thank you.”

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