Martha Jefferson addresses merger concerns

In late September, Martha Jefferson Hospital (MJH) announced a merger with Sentara—a large, not-for-profit health care system based in Norfolk, Virginia. Sentara, which generated $1.7 billion in revenue in 2009, operates eight hospitals throughout the state and serves more than 2 million patients.

Between a merger with a larger not-for-profit and an impending move to Pantops, Martha Jefferson Hospital President Jim Haden maintains that patients won’t notice a difference in the community hospital’s quality of care.

Last week, during MJH’s mandatory community discussion of the merger, MJH President Jim Haden stressed that Sentara’s hospitals are “community” hospitals, just like MJH. Along with the MJH Board of Directors, Haden told a small audience part of his job “is to look into the future and try to decide how we maintain ourselves as a superb community hospital.” That process led MJH to partner with Sentara.

“We are absolutely convinced it’s the right decision,” said Haden.

MJH plans to move to its new location on Pantops on August 28, and will receive its Certificate of Occupancy in June. According to Haden, MJH “outgrew” its current Downtown campus. An elderly woman in the audience said she would proudly support the new hospital, not without some hesitation. “I’m tentative to move 80 years of memories,” she said.

Haden reassured her that the new, bigger building will not jeopardize the hospital’s family feel. “If we stayed where we were, we couldn’t expand,” he said.

While MJH prepares for its new home, the hospital’s current site awaits a new tenant. Local development firm Octagon Partners purchased the Locust Avenue site for $6.5 million last fall. Founding partner J.P. Williamson tells C-VILLE via e-mail that Octagon is “in discussion with several office users and several hotel operators.”

Haden also told the crowd that the Sentara merger would not affect day-to-day operations from a patient’s perspective. “I don’t think you’ll notice any difference at all. I think actually we will be able to offer a lot more over the years,” Haden told the crowd.

While MJH is adding more registered nurses, the Sentara merger won’t affect personnel numbers, says Haden. “We are always doing that,” he tells C-VILLE. “But that has nothing to do with Sentara.”

The hospital will also decrease its number of board members to nine from 12, says Haden. Three board members will be from Sentara.

Ken Krakaur, Sentara’s corporate vice president, says the merger will give MJH and the community the opportunity to benefit from new technology introduced by Sentara. At the Norfolk General Hospital, for instance, Sentara created an e-ICU—an electronic Intensive Care Unit where critical care personnel can connect with staff and patients at other hospitals in the system.

“Because of Sentara’s scale, we can take some financial risks to try new technologies that may or may not prove to be financially feasible for a smaller hospital,” he tells C-VILLE. Krakaur adds that “many people leave Sentara facilities that otherwise statistically would not have made it if not for the technology.” 

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