Summa Health is making progress in its search for a potential new financial partner and in its re-application to restart its revoked emergency medicine resident physician training.

But the details of both are limited.

In an October Akron Roundtable appearance in front of several hundred people, then-Summa Interim President and CEO Dr. Cliff Deveny said the Akron-based health system was reaching out to 32 potential partners and was expecting proposals by the end of the year. If Summa decided to move forward, Deveny anticipated a letter of intent this spring, due diligence through the summer and a deal early next winter. (Deveny was named permanent president and CEO, effective Nov. 1, and has committed to stay through 2020.)

Summa put itself on the market in late September to boost patient services, improve finances and thwart competition. Officials said it was seeking a merger or partnership proposals from bigger players in the health care industry and was open to being “fully integrated,” but wanted to maintain local control.

Summa's health system includes Akron City, Barberton and St. Thomas hospitals, SummaCare insurance, standalone emergency departments and outpatient and physician offices.

In a statement, Summa spokesman Mike Bernstein last week said: “The Summa Health Board of Directors has been evaluating a number of strong proposals from health care organizations interested in potential partnership opportunities. The board met in early December to review initial proposals and identified the most viable opportunities that would allow Summa Health to continue to provide compassionate, quality care while expanding reach and access to excellent clinical services throughout Northeast Ohio and beyond. To that end, the board is engaging in further discussions with those organizations that presented solid, meaningful proposals. This dialogue is critical to ensuring that any potential partner we move forward with shares our vision for the future of Summa Health.

“Please note that Summa Health has entered into formal confidentiality agreements with every organization that submitted a proposal; therefore, we are unable to share any further details at this time. We expect to have more information to share in the coming weeks.”

Bernstein declined to say how many proposals were submitted or how many the board is pursuing. Deveny’s timeline remains on track, he said.

Summa is still recovering from a rough 2017. It went into a financial free-fall after an abrupt switch of its longtime emergency medicine physician group on New Year's Day 2017.

Then-CEO Dr. Thomas Malone resigned weeks after hundreds of doctors voted no confidence in his leadership. A national accrediting agency ultimately revoked the hospital's ability to train resident emergency department doctors because of numerous deficiencies following the staffing switch.

Summa has been turning its financial numbers around. At the Roundtable speech, Deveny said through the end of September, Summa's operating margin was $18.5 million, a turnaround of more than $55 million compared to the same period a year ago. Summa was expecting to finish the year with operating income of $22 million versus a budgeted $12 million.

Summa’s creditworthiness was also upgraded in November by Moody’s Investor Services to “stable” from “negative" a year earlier. Moody’s cited Summa's significant operating improvement achieved in 2018, strong liquidity and cash reserves, leading market position and ongoing growth strategies.

But there are still challenges. The emergency medicine residency program application to restart was denied in September by the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). The specific reasons would be released to Summa within 60 days.

Summa has declined to release the reasons.

Said Bernstein: “Out of respect for privacy, the report will remain confidential.

“We are able to reapply at any time and are working with our Graduate Medical Education Committee to determine the most appropriate time to do so. It is our goal to have residents beginning in 2020.”

The closure of the emergency medicine residency program, effective in July 2017, meant 21 trainees in what was to be a three-year program had to find new programs. Most left the area, with a few going to Akron General.

 

Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/topics/linfisher