Glasgow hospital buys bankrupt one in Columbia, stops admitting patients, seeks behavioral-health unit; bad management blamed

The bankrupt Westlake Regional Hospital in Columbia is now called T.J. Health Columbia, after its purchase last week by T.J. Samson Community Hospital of Glasgow. The lack of the word “hospital” in the name is significant; the facility is no longer admitting patients.

“T.J. will not necessarily be obligated to have inpatient services,” Westlake CEO told the Adair County Community Voice. “He went on to say that it his understanding that T.J. Samson is actively pursuing an inpatient behavioral health unit for the facility.” (UPDATE, May 2016: A behavioral health unit for up to 16 patients opened, employing 20 people.)

The Voice reports that T.J. Samson is paying $3.35 million for the 35-year-old hospital and its primary-care facility. For the next decade, Adair County taxpayers will keep paying a property tax of 10 cents per $100, enacted in 2013, to pay off $9.5 million in hospital debt, reduced greatly by the bankruptcy settlement.

Sharon Burton

Community Voice Editor and Publisher Sharon Burton has a unique perspective on the debacle: “I began this journey several years ago as the reporter across the table from the board, asking why they were borrowing $12.5 million with nothing to show for it,” she wrote in an editorial. “After the district filed bankruptcy amid a $22 million debt, I became a member of that hospital district’s board of directors,” after being asked by new county Judge-Executive Mike Stephens.

Burton said she accepted the appointment “because I could not think of anything more important to do as someone who loves this community and the people who made it great.” She recused herself from reporting or editing any hospital stories, and had an outside professional do the editing.

“This is a bittersweet day for most of us,” Burton wrote in Thursday’s paper. “I am tremendously thankful that T.J. Samson came on board and purchased the hospital district’s assets at a time when the hospital was in bankruptcy and continued to lose money almost every month.” Burton said she was sad “that it came to this. . . . The errors that got us to this point are inexcusable.”

Burton noted that the deal preserved emergency care for the community, the district board’s top priority. She said the hospital’s failure was not the result of economic changes or “change in the health-care industry. It is the result of failed leadership,” and “a reminder of how important is is to put the right people in charge of our tax dollars. It’s a reminder of how important it is to hold accountable the people in charge of our public services.”

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