After months of debate, Ashland Community Hospital appears headed where many people assumed it would all along: toward a merger with Asante Health System. While Asante was not the first choice of the ACH board, largely for financial reasons, it may well be the only partner that will pass muster with the community and the City Council that represents it.
The Ashland City Council will hear from Doug Gentry, ACH board chairman, at tonight's council meeting. Gentry will present the board's decision to negotiate with Asante, and council members may ask questions, but public comments will be taken at a later date.
While some community members believe city residents should be allowed to weigh in every step of the way, we urge patience. Council members will be able to learn what there is to learn tonight while the public listens. There will be time for public comment when more details of a potential agreement have been determined.
It is also important that community members take a realistic approach to the hospital's future.
The previous deal with Dignity Health generated opposition because of Dignity's ties to the Catholic Church and resultant questions about abortion and assisted suicide. Those issues are no longer on the table because Asante is not affiliated with any religious institution.
What's left are questions about the jobs of ACH staff. Some in the community wanted Dignity to commit to preserving every position for five years — an unrealistic expectation considering the hospital's financial condition and the uncertainty in the health care industry.
Asante is expected to consolidate some back-office positions with its existing operations, which is understandable. But Gentry says he expects the total number of positions to increase because Asante wants to expand on ACH's strengths, such as its operating rooms and wound care center.
Asking Asante for firm commitments on maintaining hospital services is certainly appropriate. But ACH cannot continue unchanged and survive financially. Expecting the hospital to be essentially the same five years down the road is unrealistic.
Residents should let the ACH board hammer out the details and be prepared to participate in the discussion leading to a final decision. But the community also must be prepared to accept a community hospital that is different than the one it has now.