Panel delays vote on contract to explore hospital merger


LITTLE ROCK — The Legislative Council put off voting Friday on a contract to hire a firm to further study a potential partnership between the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and St. Vincent Health System so members could hear public concerns about the pairing at a meeting next month.

Sens. Joyce Elliott and David Johnson, both Democrats from Little Rock, said they had received phone calls from people concerned about how a partnership between the state-run hospital and the Catholic hospital would handle women’s issue, including reproductive health.

The $720,000 contract between UAMS and Deloitte Consulting LLP to evaluate a potential affiliation between the two hospitals was recommended by the Legislative Council’s Review Subcommittee earlier this month.

Friday, Rep. Larry Cowling, D-Foreman, co-chairman of the Review Subcommittee, asked that the UAMS contract be referred back to the subcommittee for further discussion. He said Elliott and Johnson had made the request so the public’s concerns could be addressed.

Cherry Duckett, director of government affairs for UAMS, urged the council to recommend the contract immediately.

“As I think everyone in this room is aware, we’re facing a multitude of changes in the health care industry irrelevant of what happens on the federal level,” Duckett told the committee. “It’s obvious that health care cannot continue under the model and structure that it has been under. That is what we are trying to explore, to try and start making some of these adjustments.”

She said the contract with Deloitte Consulting would allow the firm to evaluate the hospital and determine if an affiliation with St. Vincent Health would be feasible.

“We’re looking to lower cost and to provide better care and continued good care for our patients,” she said. “It’s really looking at economies of scale, what this effort would do.”

Duckett said the study may show that an affiliation “doesn’t work at any level. We don’t know that.”

The director of governmental affairs told the committee that she was concerned about a delay in approving the contract. After some discussion she said waiting a few weeks until the Review Subcommittee meets on Nov. 8 would be acceptable.

The committee later voted to refer the contract to the subcommittee for discussion on Nov. 8. If the subcommittee once again recommends the contract, after hearing public comments, then the contract will be considered endorsed by the entire committee.

If the subcommittee decides against recommending the contract, the issue will be back before Legislative Council at its Nov. 16 meeting.

During Friday’s meeting, Duckett told lawmakers that if a working agreement between UAMS and St. Vincent is reached, UAMS’ identity would remain, including women’s reproductive and health services.

“This whole effort is to look at shared services,” she said. “There are no governance issues on the table, there are no women’s services that will be involved. Both parties have made that clear and anything that would interfere with the mission of UAMS as every one knows it today, is not on the table for even discussion, nor will it come to the table.”