Summit deal closes

Seven physicians from The Hughston Clinic P.C. have officially purchased Summit Hospital and renamed it Jack Hughston Memorial Hospital, hospital officials announced Thursday.

The surgeons now have a 90 percent stake in the Phenix City hospital, which has been struggling with issues such as unstable patient flows and fewer-than-expected procedures since its 2006 opening.

"This is actually something that we've wanted to do for a long time," said Dr. Carlton Savory, one of the purchasers. "For the past 12 or 13 years, we have wanted to have more direct input into patient care and... quality patient experience."

The Hughston group includes Drs. James McGrory, Lyle Norwood, Patrick Fernicola, Thomas Bernard Jr., Glenn Terry and, the group's newest addition, Ken Burkus. They purchased the hospital for $47.7 million from Nashville, Tenn.-based Ameris Health Systems LLC, which still owns 10 percent.

"This just gives us another opportunity to better serve the Columbus, Phenix City and Valley area," said Burkus, a spine surgeon.

The group decided to name the hospital after Dr. Jack Hughston, who founded Hughston Clinic in 1949.

Savory, who also will become the hospital's chairman, said the seven surgeons will still serve patients at Hughston Clinic's main Columbus campus at 6262 Veterans Parkway.

Jack Hughston Memorial Hospital will serve as a general hospital with an emphasis on orthopedics and provide another facility to perform surgeries and other procedures.

Mark Baker, chief operating officer of Hughston Clinic, said the purchase is in line with the clinic's strategic plan. Hughston Clinic has already expanded in LaGrange, Valdosta, Albany and other cities in west and south Georgia.

Baker said the group is now looking toward Alabama. Besides the latest acquisition, the clinic is also expanding its facility in Auburn.

The clinic will also be upping its number of surgeons from 18 to 22.

"We're not abandoning anybody," Savory said. "We're just expanding."

Prior to the deal, most Hughston Clinic surgeons performed surgeries at Hughston Orthopedic Hospital, Baker said. Though they share similar names and are located on the same campus, the two are not affiliated with each other.

Denise Kendust, Hughston Hospital vice president of business development and marketing, said Hughston Hospital expects to lose volume to the new Phenix City facility and is considering allowing other doctors to perform elective surgery there.

It's still up to the patient, though, where they would prefer to have procedures done.

"The Hughston Clinic physicians are still on the medical staff at Hughston Orthopedic Hospital, meaning patients have a choice where they have their surgery," Kendust said. "It is important for patients to research a hospital prior to having surgery because quality measures are different and so are the standards in which hospitals practice."

New CEO named

On Thursday, officials also announced Jack Hughston Memorial Hospital's new chief executive officer: James L. Matney, former CEO of the 60-bed Valley View Medical Center in Bullhead City, Ariz.

"One of the things that I focus on is a good quality product," Matney said. "That's what Hughston stands for... That expectation for excellence is a culture I'm hoping to bring to the table."

Matney, a former chief financial officer and accountant, said he also hopes to bring "sound financial principles."

As far as immediate changes, Matney said they will be expanding their operating rooms from four to six within the next 30 days.

The hospital also will dedicate its fourth floor to a new Hughston Orthopedic Center, which also will house a physical therapy gym.

A new benefits structure will also be implemented that should reduce employee health care costs by about 50 percent. Matney said that will hopefully attract quality health care professionals to the hospital. The hospital is currently hiring, including nurse and operating room technician positions.

When the $36 million Summit Hospital first opened last year, officials had predicted an average of 40 to 50 patients would occupy the 70-bed facility at any given time. However, in an August interview, Summit COO Ian Watson said fewer than 30 beds were routinely occupied.

About 200 procedures per month were expected to be performed in Summit's operating room, but the hospital had been conducting only half of that.

The first year was also marked by employee layoffs, a resignation by its CEO and the closure of its labor and delivery unit.

Savory said there are no immediate plans to bring back the unit.