Finalizing a plan that has been in the works for more than a year, Portage County Commissioners on Thursday voted to lease Robinson Memorial Hospital to the newly formed nonprofit Robinson Health System.
The 150-bed hospital in Ravenna will keep the same management and board, but officials have argued that a nonprofit status will make it more competitive, give it the legal option of forming ventures with for-profit physician practices, and take future employees out of an expensive state retirement system.
The county is also poised to cut ties with its county-owned nursing home, Woodlands at Robinson. Commissioners could sign off on a sale to Saber Healthcare Group of Bedford Heights as early as Tuesday.
The 99-bed center is located on the main campus of the hospital but is a separate operation.
While the commissioners appear united in their desire to sell the nursing home, the vote on the hospital lease was split. Commissioner Tommie Jo Marsilio voted against; commissioners Maureen Frederick and Chris Smeiles voted in favor.
Marsilio said she had two objections: That the deal gives the nonprofit the right to buy the facility, and that the makeup of the current hospital board did not change.
Throughout the process, Marsilio has argued that the current board “does not have socio-economic and geographic diversity. It does not look like Portage County. It looks like the elite of Portage County.”
Stephen Colecchi, Robinson’s president and chief executive, said the current 10-member board will be expanded to 15, with new members appointed by the current board. But replacing the old board would mean giving up experience and institutional memory, he said.
“Most experts in board governance would suggest you not start a new board to operate a hospital and not have some carryover from the old board,” he said.
Marsilio said if the board had been changed, she would not have objected to the sale provision.
But without the change, she said she lacks the confidence that the nonprofit won’t simply buy and then resell the hospital and “send employees up the river.”
Colecchi said there “are no plans whatsoever to sell the hospital,” but that consultants and attorneys strongly suggested the language to “set out the process for the future.” He added that any sale in the future would still have to be approved by commissioners.
He also thanked the commissioners for their efforts this past year, saying they “spent a lot of time reviewing the merits of the conversion and I thank the county for their leadership.”
The hospital will probably not operate as a nonprofit until next summer, as there are several other actions that must be taken first, Colecchi said. For instance, the group will now apply for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, a months-long process.
The 1,332 hospital employees will not see much change. Current employees may continue being part of the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, but new employees will not have that option.
In the case of the pending nursing home sale, Marsilio said it’s the responsible thing for the county to do.
“It has to happen. The cost of medical reimbursement has been cut and cut” and public-owned nursing homes are not on a level playing field with private facilities, she said. “Government should not compete with the private sector.”
Last year, Saber submitted the highest bid with a $10 million offer, but financing plans were compromised when the property appraisal came in at under $7 million.
Commissioners have since agreed to sell Saber the property for $7.6 million. The county’s debt service on the property is $6.9 million.
There has been some tension recently, as union employees at the nursing home have been trying to negotiate a new contract and have begun informational picketing.
However, the labor issues are not expected to stop the sale, Marsilio said.
The nursing home deal calls for employees to be laid off by the county and then rehired by Saber, most likely in December.
Commissioners Smeiles and Frederick could not be reached to comment.