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The Journal Gazette

  • File An artist's rendering of the new Lutheran Downtown hospital, to be located at the intersection of Main and Van Buren streets.

Friday, May 10, 2019 1:00 am


Health cares

Lutheran turnover renews ongoing concerns

Concern about the future of Lutheran Health Network first peaked in 2017. There were protests and walkouts by some medical staff members, and a group of doctors made an unsuccessful attempt to buy the network from its parent company, Community Health Systems of Franklin, Tennessee. The network's widely regarded CEO, Brian Bauer, was fired that June, which led to a bitter, long-running lawsuit. The announcement later in 2017 that the network planned to replace the century-and-a-half-old St. Joseph Hospital with a new downtown hospital drew some skepticism.

But by last year, even some ofLutheran's critics acknowledged that things were looking up. The parent company was making good on its promise to spend $500 million on improvements at the local network's facilities. Under new CEO Mike Poore, plans for the new hospital began to take shape.

In December, the network announced the new facility would be built across Van Buren Street from the present hospital. At the end of April, details of the project were released and it was given a name – Lutheran Downtown.

A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for this summer.

Still, there are continuing concerns about CHS – which has $13 billion in long-term debt – and its future plans for the Lutheran Network. This week, Community Health's CEO

Wayne Smith, took the unusual move of personally purchasing more than $3 million of company stock in order to refute a fund manager's prediction that CHS will go bankrupt within the next few years.

The local network has undergone more changes in leadership. In early March, Poore announced he was turning over his day-to-day CEO duties to Mark Medley in order to spend more time on strategic matters as Northeast Indiana regional president of the network.

Poore also said Paula Autry, CEO of Lutheran Hospital, would become the CEO of St. Joseph April 1.

Autry said she was excited about overseeing the Lutheran Downtown project. But before beginning the job at St. Joe, Autry announced she had decided to take a project CEO position with Lutheran's parent company instead.

Last Friday, less than two years after he took charge of the network, Poore announced his resignation, telling employees he had decided “this is the right time for me to return home.” Wednesday, Lutheran Hospital announced that its chief nursing officer, Angie Logan, had resigned.

Of course, people make job decisions for all manner of reasons. And Lutheran's parent company has made good on at least some of the promises it made to try to improve Lutheran Health Network.

But Lutheran is one of the area's two major health systems. Thousands of residents depend on the network for health care, and about 7,000 employees depend on it for their livelihood.St. Joe is Fort Wayne's only downtown hospital. Northeast Indiana's tradition of quality health care choices is a major selling point in attracting new businesses and talented workers.

This city and this region must be able to count on Lutheran Health Network remaining a stable and successful partner.