Asante Health System and Ashland Community Hospital hope to have an agreement signed before the end of May to bring ACH into the Asante fold.
An initial draft of the agreement between ACH, its foundation, Asante and the city of Ashland could be ready for each party to review early next week and optimism for completing the merger is high, Asante spokesperson Grant Walker said in the statement.
"This is an exciting time for Asante and for Ashland Community Hospital, and we look forward to our two organizations joining as one," he said.
A projected timeline for the process was distributed to ACH and Asante employees Wednesday, outlining phases of interviews and assessment meetings scheduled between the two organizations over the next several weeks, Walker said.
Although Asante's time line could change, its goal is to have a final agreement signed 30 to 45 days after April 9, when the initial draft of the agreement is due, the statement said.
"We are all on the same page about how it's progressing and what the time line is," said Janet Troy, ACH Foundation vice president of development. "I think people (employees) feel well informed about the process. & We're all hopeful that we can make that time line."
Marvin Haas, who has served as chief administrative and finance officer for Asante for the past 13 years and took on the role of interim CEO at ACH on March 11, will provide day-to-day direction and oversight there for at least the next two months. Mark Marchetti, ACH's former chief executive officer of almost nine years, will continue in a consulting capacity during that time.
That arrangement is designed to help Haas and Asante better understand how ACH operates.
"It's about finding out who we are and what we're doing," Troy said.
For over a year ACH has been seeking to join a larger hospital system to escape financial difficulties. Unreimbursed costs associated with treating Medicare and Medicaid patients, other unpaid medical bills and charity care contributed to a $3.3 million loss last fiscal year and a $1.5 million loss in 2008-09, the hospital has reported.
A proposed merger between ACH and San Francisco-based Dignity Health fell through in October 2012 after Dignity Health pulled away from negotiations because the organizations couldn't agree on final closing conditions of the deal, and "residual resistance," in the community, an ACH official reported then.
During the course of the seven-month negotiation process, some community members raised concerns that Dignity Health, because of its ties to the Catholic Church, would restrict women's reproductive services and the rights of dying patients to request lethal prescriptions, as permitted by Oregon's Death with Dignity Act.
In mid-February, the Ashland City Council approved a letter of intent for Asante and ACH to affiliate. While the hospital is no longer a city department, the city owns the hospital property and equipment and is the sole corporate member.
As a part of a preliminary merger agreement, the city will hand over its ownership of ACH to Asante, while Asante will take on ACH debt, including construction debt and pension obligations.
In the preliminary agreement, Asante said it will try to retain ACH employees or find new positions for them within the Asante system — which includes Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford, Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass and Asante Physician Partners, an organization to coordinate patient care inside and outside of hospitals.
With 400 employees and a $25 million annual payroll, ACH is Ashland's third largest employer and provides the highest average wage in the community, according to a fact sheet prepared by the hospital in 2012.
Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Talent. E-mail him at email@example.com.