HOUGHTON - Another step was taken Monday in the process for the partnership between Portage Health and LifePoint Hospitals with a public forum on the issue.
At the Michigan Technological University Lakeshore Center, representatives of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette explained the attorney general's process for assuring the proposed joint venture is in the best interest of the public.
Jim Bogan, Portage Health president and CEO, said the proposed partnership between Portage Health and Brentwood, Tenn.-based LifePoint Hospitals will enable the local health care system to improve and grow in the future.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Jim Bogan, Portage Health president and CEO, speaks during a forum conducted by the office of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette concerning the proposed joint venture between Portage Health and LifePoint Hospitals. Next to Bogan is Bill Carpenter, chairman of the board and CEO at LifePoint.
"This is all, from our perspective, in the best interest of the community," he said.
Bogan said LifePoint has a good national reputation and is a well-respected system. Partnering with LifePoint will help strengthen Portage Health.
In January 2012, Bogan said the Portage Health Board of Directors began the process to find another health care system to partner with. Eventually, four systems were chosen as possible partners. That was trimmed to two candidates, and finally LifePoint was chosen as the best fit for Portage Health.
Bogan said LifePoint was chosen in part because its ideals are the same as those held by Portage Health, including commitment to preserve jobs, dedication to a collaborative relationship with the medical staff, dedication to quality of care and service to patients, and the importance of local governance. Although the partnership is 80/20, governance will be 50/50.
LifePoint will eliminate Portage Health's long-term debt, also, Bogan said.
"Portage and its leadership team support the strong partnership with LifePoint, which has a commitment to grow, not reduce local health care capabilities in our community," he said.
Bill Carpenter, chairman of the board and CEO at LifePoint, said the company has 57 hospitals, many of them in communities similar to Hancock.
"We've been successful, I think, because we listen to the needs in each one of these communities," he said.
Based on the needs of the various communities, Carpenter said LifePoint is able to efficiently make investments in those local health care systems.
"By keeping care local, we have the ability to proved better care," he said. "We believe health care is local."
In the proposed agreement between Portage Health and LifePoint, the Tennessee company will be 80 percent owner, and Portage Health will own 20 percent of what, if approved, will be a for-profit company.
Kathryn Barron, consumer protection chief with the attorney general's office, said one of the responsibilities of the attorney general is to oversee charitable trusts, which Portage Health is.
Will Bloomfield, assistant attorney general for charitable trusts, said the attorney general must make certain any transactions with charitable trusts are done in the public interest.
"Charitable trusts may be sold for fair-market value, but it can't be diverted for private benefit," he said.
Bloomfield said the attorney general's office got involved with the partnership process between Portage Health and LifePoint in March when the two companies signed a letter of intent. Since then, the attorney general's staff has been reviewing the proposal to make certain it's in the public interest. Also, a valuation of Portage Health assets is being conducted.
There were 11 speakers during the public comment period. One of the speakers was Copper Country Intermediate School District Superintendent Dennis Harbour, who said the ISD and Portage Health have a good working relationship.
"Portage Health, we believe is very well respected in this community," he said. "They have clearly helped area schools provide service professionals we are unable to secure because of our (remoteness)."
Harbour said the decision to partner with LifePoint was a good one.
Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson, who said Portage Health has been a good neighbor, in various forms, for 117 years.
"We take health care seriously," he said.
Anderson said city officials appreciate the fact LifePoint will make significant investments in the community, if the partnership is approved.
Barbara Rose, executive director of the Keweenaw Community Foundation, said the proposed partnership will be good for the community.
"These ... entities create a culture of health," she said.
Philip Johnson, Finlandia University president, said the proposed partnership will benefit the university's educational offerings.
"By aligning Lifepoint's larger network of hospitals, we're persuaded this venture will support and strengthen Finlandia's current offerings in health sciences," he said.
Hancock Mayor William Laitila said the expected taxes from the Portage Health and LifePoint partnership, if approved, will help relieve some of the city's budget pressures.
Written comments on the proposed joint venture can be sent to AGportage@michigan.gov, or by United States Postal Service to Attorney General U.P. Hospital Comments P.O. Box 30213 Lansing, MI 48909.
The Michigan attorney general's website for the proposed transaction is Michigan.gov/portage.