Hopkins offers to buy Church Hospital campus

MedStar studying bid, says doctors' group yet to submit serious offer

Health care

September 25, 1999|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

Johns Hopkins has made "a business-like offer" for the nearby campus of Church Hospital as a site for future expansion, Ronald R. Peterson, president of the Johns Hopkins Health System, said yesterday.

MedStar Health, which owns Church, is reviewing the Hopkins offer but "won't rule out going out with a request for other proposals," said John Marzano, a MedStar spokesman.

Church occupies two city blocks just south of Hopkins on Broadway in East Baltimore. MedStar announced Wednesday that it will close the hospital this fall, and a nursing home and assisted living facility by June.

Licensed for 144 beds, the hospital has a patient count of 67 on an average day, and was projected to lose $6 million in the current fiscal year.

Peterson said Hopkins' interest was in "longer-term land use," and the age of the hospital facility meant that "we don't think we would be able to use it." The building predates the founding of Church in 1857; Edgar Allan Poe died there in 1849.

Meanwhile, a group of physicians who practice at Church is trying to organize to buy and operate the hospital as well as the adjoining nursing home and assisted living facility.

Dr. Ahsan Khan, a head and neck surgeon, said about 70 of Church's 300 doctors have joined the effort. He said he had been in contact with "two venture capital funds specializing in hospital turnaround," and hoped to have a plan developed by mid-November.

Marzano said MedStar "has recently been approached by a group of Church physicians, but we have not received a serious offer." Other than Hopkins and the physician group, Marzano said, he was not aware of any expressions of interest in Church.

The campus also contains a separate medical office building, which MedStar does not own. Peterson said Hopkins may be interested in assuming MedStar's lease for the building and using the offices. Beyond that, he said, Hopkins has no specific plans for the campus.

The hospital has two major projects on the drawing board, a critical care tower and a center for women's and children's programs. Hopkins plans to build both of those on sites now used for parking, while adding parking at Orleans Street and Broadway.

Hopkins has no interest in operating Church as a hospital, he said, nor does it want to operate the connected 121-bed nursing home and 115-bed assisted living facility.

While a number of hospitals have opened nursing homes or wings in the past few years, Peterson said, "that has proven to be a very difficult proposition in terms of reimbursement."

As for assisted living, the facility at Church was "very well regarded" but "we are not in that business," Peterson said.

Peterson declined to discuss details of the Hopkins offer while negotiations are proceeding. He said it is not clear whether Hopkins and MedStar are close on price.

Marzano said MedStar is seeking "the best possible use of the property at a fair value to the system." While MedStar officials are willing to consider a variety of proposals, "our decision to close the acute-care operations is firm," Marzano said.

He said MedStar had made a commitment to Church's board "to maintain Church's name and legacy or services to the elderly," whether within MedStar or elsewhere.

Pub Date: 9/25/99

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