08/01/10 — Duplin hospital deal still in negotiations

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Duplin hospital deal still in negotiations

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on August 1, 2010 1:50 AM

KENANSVILLE -- Representatives of University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, or UHS, are still discussing an agreement to purchase Duplin General Hospital with Duplin County officials and hospital administrators.

If the deal goes through, UHS could take responsibility for the hospital on Oct. 1.

Just like the procedure for buying a house, the property will not change hands until the documents are finalized, HealthAccess and East Carolina Health President Roger Robertson said.

"We're still negotiating with the hospital and the county at this point, so it's not an absolute finalized deal at this point. We're still working toward that," he said.

The hospital system is working with attorneys from the county and the hospital to establish the terms of the deal. Until it is in writing, neither entity is required to continue the transaction.

UHS officials were not prepared to discuss financial details of the transaction, such as how much money the system plans to pump into developing the hospital. Those details are subject to change during contract negotiations, Robertson said.

There could be some differences in staffing if the health care system recruits additional medical provid-ers, and some physical improvement projects. However, patients shouldn't notice many, if any, changes to their service right away if the sale goes through.

The same UHS team will still be in place, but the system will also "be able to take advantage of things haven't been able to in a managed environment," Robertson said.

Although the management structure will not change drastically, it will give the hospital group purchasing opportunities, allow the system to integrate the central business office to improve processing of billing and collections and fully integrate the Internet technology services.

The system has operated the hospital under a management agreement for several years. UHS was the only entity that returned a bid in response to the county's request for proposals. The request for proposal, sent out earlier this year to 16 health care entities, came at an awkward time for many, Robertson said.

"These are difficult economic times for hospitals and health care in general, given the general economy as well as with health care reform and not knowing how that is going to play out," Robertson said.

Although Duplin General Hospital "is a great facility that provides great care to the area," it's not in the best economic shape possible, he said.

The health care system hopes to continue providing care for local residents into the future.

"We'd like to see it be the provider of choice for Duplin County, that that's where the local citizens feel is their medical home and where residents come for care," Robertson said.