It was the new sign of the times at St. Francis on Tuesday as hospital employees, board members and community business and political leaders gathered to welcome new ownership.
Executives from LifePoint Health, a Brentwood, Tenn., company that purchased the financially strapped hospital on Dec. 31, were in Columbus for a day of get-to-know-you meetings.
LifePoint Chairman and CEO William F. Carpenter III told about 125 people that his company and St. Francis have a “bright future together,” as the sign behind him stated.
“The mortgage has been paid off,” he said. “The financial pressure you have had once upon a time is gone.”
That was the message those at St. Francis have waited for as the hospital for more than 14 months struggled with financial issues that threatened to put them in bankruptcy.
As part of the purchase, LifePoint paid off about $240 million of St. Francis’ debt, the bulk of which was in a loan secured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to expand the hospital in 2011.
Luther “Butch” Wolff Jr., a surgeon with the St. Francis Center for Surgical Care, has been around the hospital most of his life. His father, Luther Wolff Sr., performed the first surgery at St. Francis in 1950.
“LifePoint is familiar with how to operate a hospital our size in a community our size,” Butch Wolff said. “That has been their focus. What is extremely important is their financial strength. They are one of the most solid companies in this industry, financially.”
Wolff said that financial stability is important.
“There are a lot of unknowns going from a not-for-profit hospital to a for-profit hospital,” he said. “But I see this organization as very positive for the doctors and the community.”
LifePoint, one of three companies that expressed an interest in purchasing St. Francis, began talks its Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Y. “Bo” Bradley over the summer and pushed toward a New Year’s Eve closing. Carpenter said the employees made St. Francis an attractive acquisition.
“The commitment of the medical staff and the employees of this hospital during what was a difficult time told us this is a place here people want to work and physicians want to practice and where people want to come for care,” he said.
There was also a deep commitment from the community, Carpenter said.
“Oftentimes, we don’t see the same level of community support that you have here at St. Francis,” he said. “It is something that is very noticeable. The support not of only of the medical staff, but of the community for this hospital is palpable.”
Bradley said it was a good day for the hospital’s patients and nearly 2,800 employees and 300 physicians.
“As you know, our journey to find the right partner for St. Francis has been challenging and providential at times to say the least,” Bradley said. “… I couldn’t be any happier than I am to be where we are today. The more we have gotten to know the LifePoint team over the last several months, the more confident we have grown that LifePoint is indeed the best partner to lead St. Francis in the future.”
Bradley said the deal felt right from the beginning.
“When Bill Carpenter and I shook hands in July as we began the process of reaching this transaction, it was evident to me we had found the right partner, and as I expressed before I felt it was indeed providential that we had reached this point with LifePoint,” he said. “And I think that has proved to being the case.”