Originally created 02/12/06

Hearing to give public chance to discuss sale

The public will get a chance to hear the details and comment on the potential sale of St. Joseph Hospital at a hearing Monday.

State law requires a public hearing because the hospital would be going from nonprofit status to a for-profit if it is purchased by Health Management Associates of Naples, Fla. The Georgia Attorney General's Office, which must approve the sale, will be conducting the hearing from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the hospital, 2260 Wrightsboro Road.

HMA is proposing to buy the hospital and its associated medical buildings, home health and hospice services for $75 million, according to documents filed with the attorney general. During the hearing, a financial analyst will present a report on the price as fair market value for St. Joseph and its properties.

Ascension Health of St. Louis, St. Joseph's parent company, will present its reasons for wanting to sell the hospital and for selecting HMA as the buyer, said Gary Bell, the senior vice president, acquisitions and development, for HMA. The health management company, which manages three other hospitals in Georgia and 60 nationwide, also will present its plans for the facility, and there will be a period for comments from the audience.

"The goal is to answer any questions about the sale and to assure the public that the sale will provide for the continuation of quality health care for the Augusta community," Ascension said in a statement issued Friday. "We are confident there is strong support for the sale."

In the meantime, HMA officials have been meeting with Augusta doctors, Divisional Vice President Page Vaughan said.

"We're trying to interview all of the doctors and see what their issues are, the things we can correct, to get more people to use the hospital," he said.

The biggest issue appears to be Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, which at one time accounted for a third of the business at St. Joseph before the hospital dropped out last year over rates. The hospital has since rejoined, and HMA is trying to get the word out to doctors and patients, Mr. Vaughan said.

"That really was a big downturn here," he said. "The quality of the services are just as good today as they were ever."

Theresa Christie of Summerville Women's Medical Group, the chairwoman of St. Joseph's obstetrics department, said she and most of the doctors she's spoken to are excited about it. Still, she said, some are taking more of a wait-and-see attitude.

"I think that there is still some uncertainty about it - that the physicians are sort of wondering, 'Well how does HMA think that they are going to be able to do this when Ascension Health Care, which is the governing body for St. Joe's now, hasn't been able to accomplish that,'" Dr. Christie said.

But having more hospitals in Georgia and more negotiating clout should help them, she said.

"HMA is going to be coming in here with some good resources, and they're going to be able to build on the reputation the hospital already has for itself in the community," Dr. Christie said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

If you go

What: Public hearing on the sale of St. Joseph Hospital to Health Management Associates of Naples, Fla.

When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday

Where: Sister Mary Louise Conference Room at the hospital


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