Four hospital systems interested in forming a partnership with Ashland Community Hospital wrapped up formal presentations to ACH's board of directors last week.

Four hospital systems interested in forming a partnership with Ashland Community Hospital wrapped up formal presentations to ACH's board of directors last week.

"They were all very positive," said Mark Marchetti, ACH chief executive director. "All slightly different, but the board was pleased to know that there are a number of different options."

Four of the five hospital organizations that returned partnership proposals in January to ACH were invited by its board to give their presentations March 7-8, excluding RegionalCare Hospital Partners, of Brentwood, Tenn.

Organizations that presented last week included Asante Health System, which runs Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford; Providence Health & Services of Seattle, which operates Providence Medford Medical Center; Dignity Health of San Francisco, the fifth largest hospital system in the nation; and Capella Healthcare, of Franklin, Tenn.

"We were pleased to have the opportunity to share with Ashland Community Hospital's board and leadership how we can work together," said Roy Vinyard, president and CEO of Asante Health System, in an email. "Both organizations share a strong commitment to collaborating with physicians and other health care providers in the region, and everyone could benefit by combining our two local organizations."

Marchetti said ACH board members will now begin reviewing the proposals and narrowing the possibilities for a future partnership down to one.

The board hopes to have a decision made by its next regularly scheduled meeting on April 3, he said, but it may take up to six weeks.

In an email, Tom Hanenburg, CEO for Providence Medford, said his organization is honored to have been selected to present last week.

"With Providence's well-established, integrated delivery of care, coupled with Ashland Community Hospital's relationship to its community, we believe both institutions would benefit from continuing to explore an affiliation," Hanenburg said in an email. "We look forward to further dialogue with Ashland."

Representatives from Dignity Healthcare chose not to comment, and Capella Healthcare was "pleased to be able to meet" with the board, said Beth Wright, its vice president of communications and strategic marketing.

After the ACH board narrows its options down to one, the pair will enter into a 90-day period of one-on-one negotiation, said Marchetti.

"Everything has gone according to schedule," he said. "We're very pleased with how things are moving along."

The ACH board decided to pursue a partnership in July 2011 to strengthen the hospital's ability to compete with larger health institutions in Southern Oregon and increase patient services.

Marchetti said the hospital's relatively small size makes it a challenge to compete with Providence and RVMC. It's also worried that possible cuts in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements will further strain its resources.

The hospital took on a $9.4 million Medicare shortfall during last fiscal year, which is the cost it absorbed above what Medicare reimbursed, he said.

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.

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