Posted by Randy Berger on Dec. 6, 2017

Employees at Barton County Memorial Hospital heard directly from CEO Steve Edwards and the CoxHealth leadership team at the October announcement of a new partnership. When the partnership takes effect in 2018, leaders plan to grow services at the 25-bed hospital, allowing the community to receive care close to home and expanding CoxHealth's footprint.

Our mission to improve the health of the communities we serve extends across our region and we are living that commitment by joining forces with Barton County Memorial Hospital in Lamar, Missouri.

Final agreement was reached in mid-November on a new partnership announced that will bring BCMH into the CoxHealth family. The agreement was signed by the Barton County Commission, BCMH and CoxHealth after a community forum where CoxHealth leaders answered questions from community members about the acquisition.

Following a due diligence period, if all goes as planned, CoxHealth plans to close on the acquisition Dec. 31.

In January, Barton County Memorial Hospital will be renamed Cox Barton County Hospital and will become CoxHealth's sixth hospital.

The agreement will further expand CoxHealth's footprint and it will be key to helping BCMH continue to serve its patients and its community.

"We believe that care should be delivered closest to home, where patients' families can be there to support them," CoxHealth President and CEO Steve Edwards told BCMH employees at the announcement in Lamar. "We are excited about providing care in a new area of the Ozarks."

Edwards told employees that leaders have a primary focus in mind: growth to serve the community.

"The people are the key to any hospital's success," Edwards says. "Our plan is to not only provide financial stability to maintain the hospital, but to recruit more physicians and add employees and services to grow the operation."

One of CoxHealth's key strategies is improving access to health care for people across the Ozarks. At the same time, the current health care environment of declining reimbursements is particularly challenging for small, rural hospitals.

In the midst of those challenges, leaders see an opportunity that benefits both BCMH and CoxHealth. When budgets are tight, it can be hard for small hospitals to invest for the future, but with a little strategic support, rural hospitals can thrive.

In addition to financial support, the partnership will give BCMH the advantage of CoxHealth's physician recruiting and administrative support resources, such as regulatory affairs, quality, marketing and more. Most importantly, partnering with CoxHealth will allow BCMH to better serve Barton County.

"What makes a hospital work is the medical staff. We need the physicians we have and we need more physicians to grow," Edwards says. In addition to future providers for the hospital and clinic, leaders are evaluating potential specialty areas for expansion. Adding as few as two or three physicians could be enough to make the hospital financially successful.

That's an approach we've had success with in the recent past.

"If you look at Cox Branson and Cox Monett, we have a history of bringing in more physicians who can serve patients and can have a lifelong impact in the community," Edwards says. "Right now, Branson and Monett are both doing really well, with healthy bottom lines and rapid growth."

As it prepares for the future, BCMH has a number of positives in its favor, including:

• A 25-bed facility that is only 10 years old and is in outstanding shape. The hospital campus includes an attached clinic, which is especially efficient for physicians seeing patients in both settings.

• Highly engaged employees and physicians.

• A strong leadership team – CoxHealth leaders noted that BCMH's leaders have done a great job reducing and managing expenses, an accomplishment that will pay dividends as revenues grow in the future.

• Active community support – The hospital facility and its campus are supported by a county tax, which reflects the community's commitment to local health care.

"We think BCMH is ready for growth, but financial constraints have hindered that growth," Edwards says. "This partnership is a perfect fit for us. By combining the strength of CoxHealth and BCMH, we believe we can expand services in Barton County and bring new resources to the community that just would not be possible for a standalone hospital." 

BCMH interior 

Hospital and community leaders from Barton County joined BCMH staff members for the announcement of the partnership with CoxHealth. The BCMH facility, which features a lodge-style design, is only 10 years old and includes a clinic attached to the hospital. 

Details of the agreement: What you need to know

About the agreement: The proposal is for CoxHealth to lease the hospital building and all of its assets from BCMH and assume the operations of the hospital. In exchange, CoxHealth will assume the hospital's debt. All BCMH employees will become CoxHealth employees. Barton County currently receives property tax support. The agreement is structured in a fashion that retains the property tax, as it is essential to the continued operation of the hospital.

How will this acquisition affect BCMH staff? As the plan stands, all of the Barton County hospital employees in good standing will retain their positions for at least one year after the acquisition. However, Edwards notes that there is no plan to cut positions. CoxHealth's approach to similar agreements is to limit disruptions to the operations of the organizations that join us and approach changes in a measured and thoughtful manner. We value the engaged and committed employees and medical staff at BCMH. Our plan is to grow the hospital operation and in turn, BCMH employees in good standing can expect to continue growing with us. BCMH has a hard-working and dedicated leadership team that we intend to retain and bolster. We also plan to honor all physician contracts and assist with recruiting new talent, including primary and specialty care physicians.