Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TOP STORY > >New group set to take over hospital

Leader staff writer

North Metro Medical Center is nearing a deal that would ensure the continuation of essential medical services to Jacksonville and surrounding communities.

Today the hospital board of directors will possibly solidify terms of a long-term lease agreement with Allegiance Health Management, a Shreveport-based firm that specializes in rural health care. Negotiations in recent weeks have centered on the idea of Allegiance using part of the hospital facility to open a long-term acute care hospital, or LTACH as it is known in the health care industry.

Because the specialized services provided at an LTACH generally bring a comparatively higher rate of return for insurance reimbursements, the board sees such a unit as a way to shore up the hospital’s weak financial base. Then the hospital could stay open and continue to provide essential services, especially emergency care.

Also on the table are plans for opening an after-hours clinic. This would lighten the load on the emergency room for cases that require urgent but not critical care.

“We are close to a management agreement, with a potential final agreement when the board meets Wednesday,” hospital board member Mike Wilson said Monday. “The lawyers are drafting agreements for Allegiance to manage the hospital – hopefully to institute an LTACH, add new services, and improve hospital finances.”

An LTACH serves patients with complex medical problems, many of whom come directly from an intensive care unit and needing specialized, around-the-clock care. Patients who go to an LTACH have more complex medical problems and often require a ventilator. The average stay is 25 days.

Allegiance recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its LTACH at the former Southwest Regional Medical Center in Little Rock, now owned by Baptist Health.

Allegiance leases the second floor of the hospital and is licensed for 40 beds; 20 are currently occupied.

Conditions treated at Al-legiance’s Little Rock LTACH include cardiac and multi-system failure, ventilator dependence, infectious, renal and respiratory diseases, malnutrition, complex wound care, re-constructive and long-term post-surgical care, and other medically complex needs, according to a press release.

Other LTACH’s in Arkansas include St. Vincent Select Specialty Hospital at Little Rock, Baptist Extended Care Hospital at Little Rock, Advanced Care Hospital at Searcy, Regency Hos-pital at Springdale, and Advance Care Hospital at Hot Springs, as well as at Fort Smith.

The mission of Allegiance Health Management is “to provide maximum assistance to rural and community healthcare facilities enabling them to prosper and succeed with their mission of providing for the diversified healthcare needs of their communities,” its Web site states. This is accomplished via “ownership assistance, consulting and management services, and acquisition of services.”