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Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon joins Mountain States Health Alliance

February 29th, 2008 12:00 am by Rick Wagner

Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon joins Mountain States Health Alliance

MSHA President and CEO Dennis Vonderfecht speaks during a press conference Friday. Rick Wagner photo.


ABINGDON — Johnston Memorial Hospital is becoming part of the Mountain States Health Alliance instead of staying independent or going with Wellmont Health System.

Those are options the not-for-profit hospital’s chief executive officer said were considered before the JMH board approved the proposal last Friday. MSHA’s board approved it Wednesday, and JMH doctors and staff were notified starting Wednesday night.

Johnston Memorial and MSHA officials Friday afternoon announced that pending regulatory approval they will enter into a “permanent partnership” to own and operate the Abingdon hospital. They said it will be owned 50.1 percent by MSHA and 49.9 percent by JMH but will be governed as a 50-50 joint venture.

“Johnston Memorial Hospital is pursuing a 50/50 joint venture with the leading health system in our region, Mountain States Health Alliance based in Johnson City,” JMH Chief Executive Officer Sean McMurray said during the news conference.

The move brings the Johnson City-based Mountain States Health Alliance up to 15 facilities.

Sullivan County-based Wellmont lists 12 facilities in its portfolio. Wellmont spokesman Brad Lifford said Wellmont officials believe patients needing care not available at JMH would choose Wellmont’s Bristol Regional Medical Center, about 20 miles from Abingdon, instead of MSHA’s flagship Johnson City Medical Center about 54 miles away.

In an interview after the news conference McMurray said Wellmont was a “fine system,” but MSHA was the best match in strategy, culture and geography.

McMurray said the venture will allow JMH more access to resources and capital, to operate more effectively and efficiently, expand medical services, and offer opportunities to employees for training and advancement.

JMH nearly a year ago completed construction of a $22 million 60,000-square-foot Cancer Center and announced in November plans for a new replacement hospital next to the Cancer Center at an estimated cost of more than $100 million.

“We embarked on that project knowing we could complete it with our resources,” McMurray said.

Asked about jobs, McMurray said the hospital plans to grow, but some business functions could be consolidated with MSHA.

McMurray said the uncertainties of the future health care environment prompted the board to enter a partnership now from a “position of strength.”

MSHA President and CEO Dennis Vonderfecht said this likely was the last facility to join MSHA, at least for the foreseeable future.

“We never want to say never,” Vonderfecht said of acquisitions or joint ventures in MSHA’s 29-county service area.

Founded in 1905, JMH today is a 135-bed medical center with more than 700 employees and 120 medical staff members.

Vonderfecht and McMurray said they hope the partnership will be finalized no later than Sept. 1, contingent upon approvals from state and federal agencies. McMurray said state and local approval of the replacement hospital should come in late summer, followed by a 20-month construction cycle.

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