North Texas Community Hospital is now the Bridgeport campus of Wise Regional Health System – but it may be a couple of weeks before it is back up and running as a full-scale hospital.
Wise Regional CEO Steve Summers and NTCH CEO Max Ludeke met Monday afternoon at Guardian Title in Decatur to sign the papers formalizing the transfer, which officially took place a minute after midnight Tuesday. The papers went to a few other players for signatures, and the $20 million bankruptcy buyout was complete.
Wise Regional agreed in November to be the “stalking-horse” bidder as NTCH filed Nov. 8 for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. After a bidding period that lasted Dec. 11 to Jan. 28, Wise Regional’s proposal remained the only one on the table. The Decatur-based hospital was awarded the bid in a Feb. 4 hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Fort Worth.
Some creative last-minute financing was required to provide enough cash to keep the hospital operating until the official changeover. Bondholder Susquehanna International came through last week with around $1.7 million, and the Bridgeport facility was still up and running, caring for patients, when the keys were handed over to Wise Regional.
Indeed, most of the keys were handed to the same people who carried them before.
Donna Stowers, RPh, who has been with the Bridgeport hospital “since the dirt – since we were in trailers” will serve as the director of patient support services, coordinating “everything that isn’t nursing.”
Longtime Wise Regional ICU Director Pam Martin, RN, will be the director of nursing for Bridgeport.
Stowers said attending to all the details – “from keys to patient processes” – has kept everyone extremely busy during the hospital’s last few days and into the transition period. But even though the majority of NTCH’s employees are staying on, there was still some emotion as the long-awaited transition finally arrived.
“It’s mixed emotions for me,” she said. “Wise brings many positives, resources and structure. But I am sad that NTCH as it exists now will be no more.”
But, she was quick to add, there has been “a good spirit of cooperation” from both sides.
“It’s been a very positive thing,” she said. “One of my jobs is to keep the heart of this place as much like it has been as possible. We’ll have new policies, practices and programs, but a lot of the same people, and definitely the same goal, which is to continue to serve our community.”
Stowers said those people are ready to work within a new system and continue to serve.
“I am excited to start the next chapter of healthcare in Bridgeport with the many positives that Wise Regional will bring,” she said. “The heart of NTCH has been the staff and physicians who have dedicated their lives to caring for patients in our community.
“Even though we will see a few changes, these folks have left their footprint on the lives of those they have worked with and taken care of. Their dream continues as we are still here taking care of patients.
“I am proud to have been part of this organization and am looking forward to what lies ahead.”
Hospital board chairman Dr. Jimmy Horner thanked everyone at the Bridgeport facility for their perseverance as the clock wound down.
“The directors would like to thank the senior leadership at this hospital for their knowledge and professionalism that has seen the hospital through this challenging time,” he said. “We would also like to thank all of the hospital employees and physicians. They remained focused and continued to deliver high-quality care throughout this process.
“We know this past year has been tough, and we sincerely appreciate their dedication and loyalty to their work and to our community.”
He also expressed his thanks to the directors “for coming together and making some difficult decisions this past year in support of this hospital and our community.”
NUTS AND BOLTS
After shutting down the ICU, labor and delivery and most surgery last week, the Bridgeport hospital was already operating basically as an emergency room by the time the transition took place. They had the capability to admit up to four patients from the ER, although any needs beyond that would be transferred to Decatur.
The business and accounting offices were set to move to Decatur immediately, to begin realizing cost savings.
NTCH will maintain office space in the facility to continue to collect its accounts receivable so that it can pay its final bills and satisfy the IRS – part of the bankruptcy deal. Ludeke said he will stay on for about 30 days, and some finance personnel may stay for up to 90 days.
John Neal, who heads up the radiology department at Wise Regional, has been serving as the transition coordinator since November.
“My responsibility from the beginning was making sure that each manager from Decatur made it to Bridgeport, identified the things that needed to be done and had a plan to take care of them,” Neal said. “Any two facilities in any field will have different practices, different ways they operate.
“We wanted to make this a full-scale Wise Regional facility, so that our employees don’t have to switch over when they go back and forth to different equipment, different procedures.”
Among the physical modifications being implemented:
- Upgrades to the HVAC venting system to reduce energy costs and consumption;
- Additional firewall protection;
- Modifications to corridor doors, ceiling and flooring, as needed;
- Additional training of employees;
- Transitioning computer systems and upgrading software;
- Staging, placement and testing of computer systems;
- Setup of the Electronic Medical Records system;
- Transporting additional medical equipment to the Bridgeport campus, including the Pyxis medication administration systems;
- Installation of new time clocks;
- Installation of new signage;
- Re-striping the parking lot and painting more visible fire lanes;
- Phase-in of new supply vendors for continuity through Wise Regional’s Group Purchasing Organization, which will result in cost savings through increased volume;
- Implementation of barcode scanning to move to a completely automated re-ordering system for surgical, lab and office supplies.
Many of the modifications are designed to meet different standards in advance of a Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation monitoring visit that is scheduled fairly soon after the facility opens. The Bridgeport hospital was accredited through DNV Healthcare, but as part of Wise Regional the facility will be accredited through the Joint Commission.
All this was projected to take about two weeks, but Summers said the major projects should be finished in time for the hospital to go back full-service by Monday, April 8.
“Our goal within this timeframe is to maximize the infrastructure efficiencies within the facility, so that the Decatur and Bridgeport campuses will operate seamlessly together,” said Shannon Puphal, marketing and communications director for Wise Regional.
MOST FACES THE SAME
While patients in Bridgeport will see a few new faces, much of the staff will transition to the new organization.
Ludeke said of the 220 or so staff members, about 30 already worked in both places, and the other 150 or so have already signed on with Wise Regional.
Most of the physicians who have treated patients at Bridgeport already had staff privileges at Wise Regional, and others have applied or plan to.
Monday night, the Wise Regional Health System board modified its policy to allow physicians to choose which facility will be their primary practice. That move will allow doctors who have primarily worked at Bridgeport to continue to do so without seeing new on-call requirements in Decatur. It will also come into play when Wise Regional’s new surgical facility off I-35 in the Alliance area of Fort Worth opens.
Neal said a few changes will be permanent.
“Nuclear medicine will not be a part of radiology over here, and labor and delivery will all go to Decatur,” he said. “The ICU will be shut down for an undetermined time – but it will come back at some point. We just don’t know exactly when yet.”
During the transition phase, Neal said the staff from Bridgeport will essentially be “absorbed” – continuing to staff the ER and those beds there, but also undergoing training and “shadowing” their Wise Regional counterparts in Decatur, learning the different procedures, until the Bridgeport facility ramps back up.
“Full-time employees with Bridgeport will get the hours they need to maintain their pay,” Neal said.
Ludeke said his greatest satisfaction is seeing those employees continue to have jobs, and the community continue to have a hospital.
“It’s kind of like sending a kid away to school,” he said. “There’s some heartache, but you’re also proud and excited about the future.
“There’s a synergy that’s going to exist when they’re fully joined – sort of a one-plus-one equals three. Both of these hospitals will be better because of the other,” he said. “This transaction provides us with the benefits that come with local control and being part of a larger healthcare organization and continuing to provide high-quality healthcare for residents of Bridgeport, Wise County and our surrounding communities.
“This is a great outcome for North Texas Community Hospital. We look forward to beginning our next phase with Wise Regional Health System.”
CONSIDERING THE HOSPITAL’S FINANCIAL STRUGGLES, DO YOU THINK THE ARRANGEMENT WITH WISE REGIONAL IS AN ACCEPTABLE RESOLUTION?
“I have always been a huge supporter for the Bridgeport hospital, and I truly hate to see the financial struggles they have gone through. Worse than that, I would hate to see it close. Wise Regional is willing to keep the hospital open for the Bridgeport community; therefore I think their resolution is more than acceptable.”
– Susan Miller, James Wood Motors Inc. marketing director
“Under the circumstances, it is the best that could happen. I wish the family practice doctors who do deliveries could be taken care of. That part is unfortunate.”
– Fred Meyers, Meyers Agency owner/agent
“My short thought is it is GREAT! We are glad to get to keep a facility here. Some of the services are being reduced that I’d like to see here, but I am sure the new owners are making wise financial decisions and will expand later. I think it is great for the community, and I am glad Wise Regional is the one who stepped up to keep it here and open. “
– David Correll, State Farm Insurance agent