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The Journal Gazette

  • FILE: Lutheran Health doctors performing heart surgery.

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Friday, May 19, 2017 1:00 am

Doctors aim to buy Lutheran

Rally to urge parent firm to sell; CEO defends operation

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

A group of local doctors is making an offer to buy Lutheran Health Network, Dr. John Crawford confirmed Thursday.

The city councilman, who doesn't know details, isn't personally involved in the offer but hopes cash-strapped Community Health Systems accepts it.

Lutheran Health Network generates $200 million to $300 million in annual profit, Crawford said. As a councilman, he'd like to see that money remain in the local community and reinvested in the health care system rather than sent to the parent company in Franklin, Tennessee.

Crawford, R-at large, has scheduled a news conference for this morning to talk about the potential sale of eight hospitals, physician practices and multiple clinics. He is scheduled to be joined by other local doctors and members of the Fort Wayne City Council.

The Parkview Health-affiliated radiation oncologist isn't taking a swipe at Lutheran-affiliated physicians.

“The care at Lutheran is good,” he said, “but I have seen declines in the (hospital buildings).”

Crawford isn't the only one rooting for a deal.

Lutheran Health Network employees – past and present – plan to rally on the Lutheran Hospital campus at 9 a.m. Saturday to encourage the parent company to sell its eight northeast Indiana hospitals, according to a post on social media.

Just one week after CEO Brian Bauer announced that CHS is investing half a billion dollars in the network over the next five to six years, an unknown number of disgruntled workers planned the rally.

A posted message sent to The Journal Gazette says: “Come show your support for our patients, physicians, employees and community to tell CHS their offer of $500 million is too little, too late. CHS, please leave our community! Trust is earned. Not purchased.”

Bauer, who was interviewed briefly by phone, was mum on any negotiations.

When asked to clarify whether he was aware of local doctors making an offer to buy Lutheran Health Network, Bauer said: “A discussion is taking place between a group of physicians and Community Health Systems, but it's not my role to facilitate that process.”

Bauer later clarified that the discussion was about the $500 million investment, not an acquisition offer.

“I have not been presented with an offer,” he said.

A CHS spokeswoman said earlier this week the company doesn't generally comment on potential acquisitions and divestitures.

Bauer defined his role as advocating for Lutheran Health Network.

The result, he said, is the planned $500 million investment.

“People are very excited here about the $500 million,” he said. “Things are great here at Lutheran.”

All employees received a raise last year, he added.

Bauer brushed off a suggestion that he could be out of touch with employees if he doesn't know what critics are upset about. Bauer said he meets regularly with staff, has an open-door policy and responds personally when workers email him.

He won't attend Saturday's rally to encourage CHS to sell Lutheran Health Network, but he plans to be at Lutheran Hospital, visiting patients and meeting with the staff.

On Monday, Bauer is scheduled to be in Wabash, where officials will break ground on a $10 million outpatient center, one of the projects included in the announced $500 million capital investment plan.

Lutheran Health Wabash will be at 1700 S. Alber St. The site, south of U.S. 24 on Wabash's north side, was chosen because of its easy access, officials said.

The 30,000-square-foot building will house an urgent care clinic, primary care practices, a physical therapy and rehabilitation area, a full laboratory, a diagnostic imaging suite, an infusion therapy center and space for additional specialists.

Plans call for 36 new jobs – 23 of them Lutheran employees – at the center, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

Lutheran's investment will be in equipment, furnishings and a long-term lease. Green Star Development will own the building.

sslater@jg.net