By Rich Heiland
for Walker County News Today
Thursday, June 21, 2018 – Contrary to rumors, the Walker County Hospital Corporation, the current operating company for Huntsville Memorial Hospital, will not be declaring bankruptcy in the immediate future, according to its board chairman.
Hospital Board Chairman Mac Woodward said this morning (June 21) that while bankruptcy remains a down-the-road option, a vote by the Walker County Hospital District’s Board of Managers Wednesday night clears the way for other options to keep the hospital functioning.
(lNote: The Walker County Hospital District (WCHD) is a creation of state government and has taxing authority to provide for indigent care and to own property. It leases the hospital building to the Walker County Hospital Corporation dba Huntsville Memorial Hospital, a private non-public entity, but is not involved in management of the facility. Its board is elected by county voters; the hospital board is appointed internally.)
Following Wednesday’s two-and-a-half-hour executive session the WCHD directors voted unanimously to hire the investment banking and bankruptcy reorganization firm Hammond Hanlon Camp, LLC, already hired by the HMH board, to help find a new owner or operator for the hospital.
The unanimous vote by the WCHD directors came after two previous meetings to consider hiring the firm were cancelled. WCHD chairperson Anne Woodard said the contract voted on was a “draft proposal” with at least two areas to be finalized. Mac Woodward confirmed his board already has engaged the same firm.
“The firm will be representing the District with regard to a transaction that may include the sale of the hospital corporation’s assets to an appropriate healthcare system,” Anne Woodard said prior to last night’s vote. “It will help find a purchaser for the assets of the District, which includes real estate and equipment or a lease.”
She said the vote was needed to begin a process to find a “district partner, hopefully a purchaser that can provide a lot of capital back into hospital purchasing power and have leverage with supply companies and also meet the quality of care needs at our hospital.”
She said as soon as the contract’s remaining details are ironed out the document will be made public, a pledge seconded by WCHD Director Dr. David Toronjo, MD.
“This was a very laborious task, and I think the district members did their very best on this,” Dr. Toronjo said. “Going forward we feel that, while this is a very difficult decision to make, it was absolutely necessary to ensure the future operation of the hospital. The district looked at all the options and we were left with this.
“We will move forward as a district and make tough decisions and they will be public decisions,” Dr. Toronjo said. “ They will be transparent, and we will be absolutely public with all documents.” His call for transparency was second by other members.
Asked if the firm also would assist in bankruptcy if it came to that, Anne Woodard said the firm “will help us with that” but any decision about filing would come from the hospital corporation’s board.
Mac Woodward said the joint hiring of Hammond Hamlon by both groups will allow them to move forward in tandem. He declined to speculate on a timetable or outcomes.
“There will be a process of pulling together information and now that we are working together utilizing the same consultants and advisers, we can start a process to get our information out there,” Mac Woodward said. “Obviously, we need capital improvements. We need to benefit from the changes in the health care community. We have been waiting for the district to approve it (the contract) so we could jointly be on the same page.”