Ashland Community Hospital is looking to garner public input and dispel rumors circulating around its decision to pursue a partnership with another independent hospital or hospital system.

Ashland Community Hospital is looking to garner public input and dispel rumors circulating around its decision to pursue a partnership with another independent hospital or hospital system.

ACH will hold a public forum at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25, in its conference room at 280 Maple St.

"We want people to know that we are starting to look into options for an affiliation," said Mark Marchetti, chief executive officer.

"The rumors that a deal has already been made are not true."

Marchetti said he wants to go into any negotiations with a clear understanding of the ACH services the community wants preserved, and which services residents would like to see changed.

With help from the Huron Consulting Group, a Chicago-based, health-care consulting firm, ACH will distribute a confidential information memorandum to potential partners in mid-November, said Marchetti.

He said the hospital's board is moving forward with no preconceived notions of what a partnership might look like until after other institutions begin showing interest.

The board made the decision to pursue a partnership last July, and so far the hospital has been focused on gathering input from its 400 employees.

"We don't view this as a diminishment of what we are," Marchetti said. "We want a relationship that will not only maintain our services in Ashland, but hopefully help us grow our services in Ashland."

Marchetti said ACH's relatively small size makes it a challenge to compete with nearby Providence Medford Medical Center and Asante Health System's Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford. It's also worried that possible cuts in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements will further strain its resources.

The hospital received 53 percent of its total revenue from the Medicare program last fiscal year, up from 41 percent in 2003-2004. Last year the hospital took on a $9.4 million Medicare shortfall, which is the cost ACH absorbed above what the program reimbursed.

"That hurts," said Marchetti.

The hospital lost another $1.6 million from uncompensated charity care, and an additional $1.5 million from people who didn't pay their medical bills, its annual report shows.

Marchetti said ACH "would like to have a seamless relationship that allows us to send patients outside of the community for some services and bring them back for a checkup."

Because the hospital operates under the auspices of the city of Ashland, the City Council will have a hand in approving whatever lease arrangement emerges out of any alliance the hospital decides on.

"Our hope is to enter into a relationship, and people will wake up the next day and not even realize a change has been made," Marchetti said.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.