Walton Rehabilitation sale to HealthSouth will provide greater resources, CEO says

Walton Rehabilitation Hospital wanted to become part of a larger health system, and it found the biggest in rehabilitation, Walton CEO Dennis Skelley said.

The pending sale to the gigantic HealthSouth Corp. is expected to provide Walton with greater resources and efficiencies while giving Walton’s parent company and foundation money to do more in the community, he said.

The sale to HealthSouth, which operates 100 rehabilitation hospitals across the country but none in Georgia, must be approved by the Georgia attorney general’s office. Paperwork for that approval would be filed early this month, and the attorney general will have 90 days after that to approve the sale, which will include a public hearing on its merits, Skelley said.

From his standpoint, those merits are many.

“We were looking for strength, and HealthSouth is the largest inpatient rehabilitation provider in the nation,” Skelley said. “They bring with them a great deal of expertise, resources,
education and financial strength as well.

“They have efficiencies because of their size that can be readily put into place here that will help to deal with operating a more cost-effective organization into the future.”

For instance, HealthSouth already has an electronic medical records system, while Walton was facing a minimum of $3 million to install a similar system.

HealthSouth also has clinical protocols that tend to shave a day of hospitalization off a patient’s stay “with the same or better outcomes than what we’ve been producing,” Skelley said.

While they have not shared any capital improvement plans, HealthSouth has already sent a team that included an architect and engineers to scope out potential improvements at Walton, he said.

As a nonprofit, Walton is required to provide at least 3 percent of net operating income toward charity care, and HealthSouth would be bound by the same provision, Skelley said.

“We should not see any difference in terms of access between current ownership and ownership under HealthSouth,” he said.

Walton, which opened its doors nearly 25 years ago, gets referrals from all Augusta area hospitals, and Skelley said he expects the new management “will be very interested in making sure those relationships continue.”

That future management will not include him, and the board of Walton’s parent company and its foundation are looking at what their future will hold.

The proceeds from the sale “will allow our current boards to collaborate and define how those proceeds are used to meet the needs of persons with disabilities in the CSRA at a much grander level than what they’ve been able to do on their own,” Skelley said.

He expects the majority of employees to be hired by HealthSouth, and those who aren’t will be retained by Walton’s parent company as it figures out its new role providing services for people with disabilities in the community.

Walton physical therapist Kellie Hughes said she is a little apprehensive about the unknown aspects of the sale and the future but used the word “hopefully” often as she looked to a future under HealthSouth.

“Hopefully, there will be a bigger pool of resources we can draw from with it being a larger corporation,” she said. “It has clinics all across the country, so I think that will be hopefully helpful.”

Since Hughes arrived at Walton in August 2011, it has made a number of changes to try to improve patient care and efficiency, so changing protocols again won’t be anything new.

“We’ve been changing things a good bit the whole time I’ve been here, so I think it is not necessarily the easiest thing, but it is something we are kind of used to and ready to adapt to,” she said.

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