Two new CEOs carried Lutheran Health Network's marketing message to the Rotary Club of Fort Wayne on Monday.
But, perhaps, the most surprising thing they said concerned meetings with rival provider Parkview Health.
Paula Autry, Lutheran Hospital's leader, and Karen Fordham, St. Joseph Hospital's chief, shared their network's and facilities' histories with several dozen club members during a luncheon at Parkview Field.
“I'm in awe of the services we provide ... to the community,” Autry said after reading a “firsts” and “onlys” list that included the fact that Lutheran Hospital offers the region's only accredited heart and kidney transplant programs.
“For me, it was really a no-brainer to come to this facility,” she added.
The Rotarians were more interested in the rift between some community members and Lutheran's Tennessee parent company, Community Health Systems, than in a recitation of Lutheran's accomplishments.
Autry fielded questions about CHS debt, the intentions of a major Chinese investor and employee morale.
Autry, who has no special insight into the investor's strategy or the company's debt, said that by the time she came on board in November, staff seemed ready to move beyond calls for CHS to sell Lutheran's network to someone who would invest more in salaries, equipment and building maintenance.
“There's no lack of (financial) commitment coming from Community Health System,” she said, citing a $500 million investment pledge CHS made to Lutheran's network last year. In fact, Autry added, total capital spending could go beyond that amount after a new electronic medical records system and replacement hospital for St. Joe are paid for.
“It's a really exciting time to be at Lutheran,” she said. “I know there's been a lot of distraction the last couple of years, but we're moving forward. What matters is our people.”
Parkview entered the discussion when a Rotarian asked Autry whether the local market has room for Indiana University Health, which has opened a pediatric specialty clinic under its Riley Children's Health umbrella and has announced plans to open an adult primary care office.
IU Health officials have said they expect to make a long-term commitment to the region, which would likely include more facilities.
Autry answered that consumers will decide whether IU Health can grow here.
“I, personally, welcome competition. I think it makes us stronger,” Autry said, adding that the threat from a third health care system has spurred Parkview and Lutheran officials to have some unprecedented conversations.
After the program ended, Autry said she is unable to reveal even broad topics from those discussions. Mike Packnett, Parkview Health's CEO, couldn't be reached for comment.
The local health care providers, which are the largest employers in Allen County, have been fierce competitors over the years.
Fordham, who is in her second full week as CEO of St. Joe, responded to an audience question about the planned downtown hospital.
“I'm looking forward to building a brand new hospital and getting feedback from the community on what services we should offer there,” she said, adding that officials hope to announce the location in the next couple of months.
Lutheran spokesman Geoff Thomas said the goal of breaking ground in 2018 remains. The search has been narrowed, he said, to two sites near the existing hospital at Broadway and Main Street. Mike Poore, Lutheran Health Network's CEO, has had almost daily discussions about the project.
“The excitement is building for the new hospital as many physicians with various specialties have expressed a strong desire in being a part of the new location,” Thomas wrote. “The medical community is well aware of how this new facility will change the landscape of healthcare in Fort Wayne.”
Poore was originally scheduled to make the presentation with Autry. But, instead, he was in Franklin, Tennessee, presenting his strategic plan to CHS officials.
Poore alerted the Rotary Club about the scheduling conflict two weeks ago, Thomas said. After consulting with a club official, the decision was made to schedule Fordham in his place.
But, Thomas said in an email, “Mike looks forward to speaking to them in the near future.”
Tim Gibson, the Rotary Club's president, described the presentation on Lutheran's history and services as “pretty basic.” But Irene Walters, a past club president, was fired up about what she learned during the Q&A.
“I love that idea of working together (with Parkview) for the betterment of the community,” she said. “Competition is good for everybody.”