Published: Thursday, September 21, 2006
Forum buyer drops intent
Union leaders expressed surprise when they learned of the announcement.
YOUNGSTOWN Union leaders at Forum Health are left shocked and surprised that a for-profit health-care firm is no longer interested in negotiating to buy the nonprofit Forum hospital system.
Forum Health released a one-sentence e-mail to the local press about 8 p.m. Wednesday reading: "On September 20th, Forum Health received notification, without explanation, that Community Health Systems terminated the letter of intent dated August 11, 2006."
Patty Kimerer, a Forum Health spokeswoman, said the hospital system had no further comment Wednesday.
Community Health Systems, based in Brentwood, Tenn., signed the nonbinding letter that would have had Forum sell its operations to a CHS subsidiary. CHS touts itself as specializing in nonurban hospitals, and owns or operates 76 hospitals in 22 states through its subsidiaries.
Union officials said they learned about this news from a Vindicator reporter and were upset that Forum Health told the press before informing its 5,000 employees.
The officials said they are left in the dark when it comes to what the announcement means for the future of Forum Health and its employees.
"I haven't figured out the impact of this," said Thomas Connelly, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2026, which represents about 450 registered nurses at Forum's Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren. "I would like an explanation. I also want to see what Forum Health does next."
Pam Shelton, president of AFSCME Local 2288 that represents about 175 technical and service workers at Forum's Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland, said the news "floored me."
Union leaders were looking forward to discussing the potential sale with CHS, she said.
"It was a relief when the potential sale was announced," Shelton said. "We're trying to get over the shell-shock of this. We'll regroup and do what we can."
Ray Braham, president of AFSCME Local 2804 that represents about 600 service workers at Trumbull Memorial, said he was disappointed with CHS' decision because he hoped a new owner would turn around the finances of the struggling hospital system.
Dave Regan, president of the Service Employees International Union District 1199, said Forum's employees want to help come up with a solution to save the hospital system, but have been largely ignored. The SEIU represents about 1,400 service, maintenance, licensed practical nurses, laboratory workers and pharmacists at Forum.
"Now more than ever there has to be a process that involves the community, the hospital, the employees and the political leadership," he said. "We need to form a coalition to come up with a solution. We all have to work together on this and not separately. That hasn't been the case."
Union leaders said there will be a lot of speculation about why CHS terminated the potential sale without explanation only 40 days after the letter of intent was signed.
"Forum says they want to treat employees as partners and we're left in the dark," said Eric Williams, president of the 750-member Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association at Forum's Northside Medical Center in Youngstown and Beeghly Medical Park in Boardman. "You don't leave partners in the dark."
Williams said he's "concerned and surprised" by the announcement.
"You can speculate all day," he said. "Maybe they started to see something they didn't like or they didn't like something Forum Health proposed. We've had zero communication from CHS and Forum's board. We'll continue to ask questions, but we haven't received many answers. There's a shroud of secrecy over this."