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Columbia doctor-owners meet to discuss purchase

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by Paul Flemming

SBJ Staff

Former doctor-owners of Columbia Hospitals in Springfield met July 21, elected officers and discussed their options for reopening Columbia's north-side facility as their own hospital.

By mid-August, the group will have information to determine who of the 10 physicians wants to pursue the hospital venture. Among that information will be the report of a state official's inspection of the property and a business plan from Baird Kurtz & Dobson.

"They want to see the deal, the numbers," said Dr. William Campbell, reelected as president of the partnership. Dr. Arthur J. Cohn was elected as secretary-treasurer. When the information is before them, the group will decide "who's in and who's out. If these guys pull out, we'll get the money. We are going to do it."

As part of the sale agreement with Cox Health Systems, the doctors have an option to buy the north hospital, a commitment of venture capital loans from Cox, two years of running the emergency room by Cox and access to Primrose Health Care Services, the Cox-owned managed care company.

Campbell said an Aug. 6 inspection of the hospital at 2828 N. National is scheduled to provide a checklist of what will be required to get the facility properly licensed.

Columbia CEO Michelle Fischer said the north facility has not been used by Columbia as an inpatient hospital for more than a year. Campbell said concerns about the building's roof are the most obvious issues to address.

Of the 10 general partners, Campbell said five are committed to going forward with the plan to purchase the north hospital. He named 10 other physicians who have expressed an interest in becoming involved in the project in the week following the announcement of Cox's acquisition.

He said the group so far comprises "most of primary care, but we need some support from specialists." He said he is contacting doctors in the areas of practice needed to fill out the group.

The unconvinced doctors among the general partners want more information or are concerned about other associations they have with managed care systems other than Primrose.

"They're making thoughtful decisions, and I certainly don't fault them for that," Campbell said.

Campbell said the business plan being prepared by BKD will include information on the full debt load necessary to bring the building up to snuff, the expenses associated with full-time employees and maintenance of the hospital. From that data, the plan will determine the number and type of patients necessary for the hospital to make a go of it.

"BKD will deliver a business plan and show what kind of census (of patient admissions) we'll need," Campbell said. "Whether it's 20 patients a day or 50 patients a day, once you're above that and with other services, that amount drops to your bottom line."

As planning for the possible new venture took place, Campbell took part in the final meeting of Columbia's Springfield board of trustees. Campbell is chief of staff for Columbia. He said Cox CEO and President Larry Wallis attended the July 22 meeting.

"He has just been a consummate performer" in soothing Columbia employee's concerns in the wake of the announcement, Campbell said.

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