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Community Medical Center to be bought out

By Will Wadley, KECI Weekend Anchor, wwadley@keci.com
Scott Zoltan, KECI Reporter, szoltan@keci.com
Published On: Mar 28 2014 12:46:46 PM MDT
Updated On: Mar 28 2014 10:58:38 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

Steve Carlson, CEO of Community Medical Center, confirms Community Medical Center is being bought out by Billings Clinic and a Tennessee-based hospital group.

Community Medical Center held a press conference Friday afternoon amid speculation the hospital's board of directors had reached a decision on a potential merger.

The hospital had been in partnership talks with several larger medical groups since last year.

According to Carlson, "After a year of exploring the very complex issue before the board, the Community Medical Center Board of has voted to partner with with the Billings Clinic and RegionalCare Hospital Partners of Brentwood Tennessee."

We pulled up tax information for the Billings Clinic. Click the links to look at the numbers from 2010 and 2011.

Hospital administrators confirmed last week the board had narrowed a list of potential candidates it could partner with to two, which our sources indicated were Billings Clinic and Providence Medical Group. Click here to watch a Billings Clinic promotional video.

The board of directors met Thursday for a regularly scheduled board meeting.

Click here to read the email from Steve Carlson to Community Medical Center Staff.

Hospital officials expect a lot of public input on the deal, as it would transition Community Medical from a not-for-profit to a for-profit entity. That means it would try to make a profit for investors, and it would also start paying property taxes.

"We would like to think that that for-profit corporate status is something that would be reasonably invisible because of all the commitments to continue to provide very high quality services," said Billings Clinic CEO Nicholas Wolter.

As far as staffing goes, hospital officials say there aren’t any plans to cut jobs or programs, but rather the hope is to create jobs, and offer new services.

"I'd say this is about joining a Montana organization, recognized as the nation's leader in patient safety and quality and then building upon that by bringing in RegionalCare, who has expertise in cost management and efficiencies," said Carlson.

Community officials didn’t say if Providence, the owner of St. Patrick, Missoula's other hospital, was one of the candidates considered for a partnership, because nondisclosure agreements are in place until the deal is finalized.

"Had that, or if that was one of the options we were considering, I think that they offer many strengths for us to consider as well but I think ultimately an advantage over the model today relative to that one would be honoring choice," said Carlson.

The deal has to be approved by the Montana State Attorney General’s office, and hospital officials say that’s expected to happen in late summer or in the fall.

We wanted to know what people thought of the buyout, so we stopped by the Western Montana Clinic, next door to the Community hospital campus.

Most people we spoke to were in support of Community's decision to merge with the Billings Clinic, and they were happy Community didn’t merge with Providence.

"You need to have competition as far as prices go for this small community. You need that and there's only two hospitals,” said Missoula resident Vell Nichols.

“I'm interested to see what results we see out of this,” said Hellgate High student Hudson Therriault

Providence St. Patrick Hospital released the following statement in response to Community Medical Center's announcement:

"For more than 140 years, Providence St. Patrick Hospital has been a leader in providing the best care for patients and increasing access to high-quality, affordable healthcare in our region. “While we are disappointed in Community Medical Center’s decision, we believe lowering costs and increasing quality is the best for our community and we will continue to build relationships with partners who share our same vision to accomplish these goals,” said Providence Western Montana Chief Executive Jeff Fee. Throughout its history, St. Patrick Hospital has adapted to meet the community’s needs for healthcare options. “We will make the necessary investments in patient care to provide a comprehensive range of services to the residents of Western Montana,” said Fee. “St. Patrick Hospital has served the community for more than 140 years,” added Fee, “and we will continue to serve for decades to come, never taking the focus away from our commitment to the poor and vulnerable.”