Work continues at UAMS on the proposal from Chancellor Dan Rahn to essentially merge hospital/clinical operations with the private St. Vincent Infirmary health system.
On the jump find a recent memo from Rahn about appointees to UAMS committees to study the issue.
Some advocates of the plan, including Rahn, object to use of the term “merger,” though the word is employed in the founding document for a $1 million consultants’ study on the issue. It also is functionally apt. Peter Banko, CEO at St. Vincent, talked at a health conference sponsored by Arkansas Business this week of his vision that there will, in time, be two networks of health providers in Arkansas. It’s easy to conclude that vision would be UAMS/St. Vincent and Baptist. You can see where those left as roadkill in such an evolution might have some anti-trust concerns. (PS — The assumption is that Arkansas Children’s Hospital continues to function as more or less the pediatric department of UAMS. Indeed, its nonprofit model is a template for the partnership with St. Vincent, though it’s not really parallel as a purpose-built local hospital versus a part of a national health operation looking to maixmize net revenue.)
If these two institutions combine/merge/cooperate/whatever, jobs will be lost (we know this from experience in other states, Louisiana for example). Also, jobs that once operated clearly as parts of individual institutions will be part of a unified network with two masters. Which employees will have preference in hanging onto their jobs? Whose pay scales will have preference? What policies on insurance coverage of birth control pills will control employees of the blended system — UAMS’ or St. Vincent’s? Will abortion be no longer taught, practiced or spoken of at the blended institution? Tubal ligations? Family planning? Morning-after pills for rape victims? Will St. Vincent agree to obey sexual non-discrimination policies of the UA or insist that its church roots preclude it being bound to non-discrimination against gay people? Will St. Vincent be able to punish those with whom it disagrees on account of their speech, routine for private business but a ticklish proposition for a government-funded agency? Will the Freedom of Information Act be honored? Will the blended institution expand outsourcing and seek to do no business with employee unions? Will a two-class organization ensue — doctors and everyone else? People inside are asking these questions, the public should, too, particularly the baseline question of taxpayer investment in one private institution’s profits over another.
Yes, there’s much to study.