Phoebe hustles to calm negative reaction - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Phoebe hustles to calm negative reaction

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By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) –  Phoebe Putney leaders are pushing back against negative reaction to their buyout of Palmyra Medical Center. They say they want to ensure the community this is a good deal.

They did that today by promising to pay Dougherty County taxes on property that's been exempt from taxes for years because of their not for profit status.

Again they addressed community concern over rising health care costs and the potential for lost jobs.

While CEO Joel Wernick says the discussion in the halls here at Phoebe has been positive, that's not the case in the community and there's still a lot of anxiety, down Palmyra Road about whether all employees will still have a job. Some of that was addressed today both at Palmyra and here at Phoebe.

Anxious and uncertain is the sentiment coming from Palmyra employees. They met today at Palmyra as Phoebe's Hospital Board officially approved the buyout deal. Former Palmyra employees who now work at Phoebe talked to board members about concerns of their spouses and former co-workers.

 "The main thing I think he was concerned about was the PHO's, the insurance, 401K and a lot of their questions were answered that that would be a smooth transition," said Kelley Parrish, a Phoebe employee whose husband works at Palmyra.

"They're very nervous and scared as anybody would be and like I said earlier in their comments to them, we are so much more alike than we are different. We are nurses, you all over there provide wonderful patient care, they do over here," said R. N. Susan Hampton, who left Palmyra 6 weeks ago.

But again today CEO Joel Wernick reiterated there would be no layoffs. Unlike when the hospital purchased Sumter Regional they believe staffing levels are where they need to be.

"A big part of this is going to be is making sure we're placing the right people in the right place, but there's plenty of job opportunities from that perspective and currently that hospital is very closely staffed for the services it provides," Wernick said.

Wernick also addressed concerns circulating in the community that health care costs will go up with just a single provider in the community. "Historically our prices have always been less than theirs so from that perspective the question would be as we re-price, we actually think their prices will come down to our prices as opposed to the other way around."

The biggest announcement may have been when we questioned how long promised payments in lieu of the $570,000 in property taxes Palmyra Medical Center pays would go on. Today Wernick said they're working to put the citizens tax concerns to rest.

"You can see our commitment is actually commitment that extends beyond the first year and its our goal to sit down with the county and work through actually a voluntary payment that encompasses not just Palmyra but all of our properties."

It's been question where the $195 million to complete this deal will come from. Today WALB learned from financial statements the health system reports more than 500 million in liquid assets, they say they've been saving for expansion.

"We've been putting aside money perpetually to anticipate those things that might be needed and so those assets are what are going to be liquidated that we might had to do if we were constructing opposed to buying," said Wernick.

In this case, they've said buying Palmyra's more than 200 beds is a much better deal than building another hospital the same size.

The Hospital Board today had to waive a non-compete agreement that prohibits the hospital from managing or operating another hospital in Albany or Dougherty County.

Joel Wernick said he realizes the Hospital Board and Authority are not going to be able to change some people's opinion no matter what they say.

He does believe the buyout will lead to more jobs and the addition of health care programs.

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