Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Barnes-Jewish Merger Likely Backers Say Long-Expected Move Would Cut Costs

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Barnes-Jewish Merger Likely Backers Say Long-Expected Move Would Cut Costs

Article excerpt

BJC Health System's board is expected to approve today a merger of the operations of Barnes and Jewish hospitals.

Jewish Hospital's board endorsed the merger on Monday.

Although the two hospitals have been linked since 1992, the proposal would merge their administrations and many clinical operations. BJC says it needs to eliminate duplication.

"There was a unanimous vote to merge the two hospitals," said Harold Blatt, a lawyer at the Bryan Cave law firm and a Jewish Hospital board member. "All it means is that the two hospitals are merging."

Another board member confirmed the vote but said he knew few of the details. John Dubinsky, chairman of the hospital's board and chief executive of Mark Twain Bancshares Inc., did not return telephone calls Friday and Monday.

A merger has long been expected. Some believe it would help BJC pare costs and increase efficiency. In the past, some Jewish community leaders have balked at closing or shrinking the hospital, which Jewish donors helped build 93 years ago.

Rabbi Mark Shook of Temple Israel said the merger was almost inevitable. The push to cut health-care costs means "you either merge or go out of existence," he said.

Nevertheless, he said, it is still important to preserve the hospital's "sense of Jewish values," including attention to Jewish diet, traditions and celebrations.

"The hospital has made a valiant effort to reassure the community in that regard," he said.

Many of Jewish Hospital's prime donors are still Jewish-oriented organizations. BJC plans to keep various trusts and gifts supporting each of the hospitals intact, to minimize defections by donors, said a board member who asked not to be identified.

As more people become enrolled in health maintenance organizations and other forms of managed care, they spend less time in hospitals and get more care at outpatient clinics, surgical centers and at home. Area hospitals have as many as twice the number of beds people need.

Barnes and Jewish have had 50-percent occupancy rates or even lower in the past two years.

"I think this is a step in the right direction," said Rich Corcoran, a consultant at KPMG Peat Marwick. "This is probably the first step of many within (BJC's) system."

Details on the expected Barnes-Jewish merger weren't immediately available Monday. The unidentified board member said the two hospitals would share the hyphenated name and divvy up services, merging administrative functions and many clinical functions.

Many in the industry expect big hospital systems such as BJC to close down beds and even hospitals, idling hundreds of health-care workers in upcoming years. That could mean dozens of health-care, management and support jobs may be eliminated, something that union officials don't welcome.

The Teamsters have been trying to organize nurses within BJC's system for months. …

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