Five hospital systems submitted proposals to form a partnership with Ashland Community Hospital, including the parent organizations of Rogue Valley Medical Center and Providence Medford Medical Center in Medford.

Five hospital systems submitted proposals to form a partnership with Ashland Community Hospital, including the parent organizations of Rogue Valley Medical Center and Providence Medford Medical Center in Medford.

The ACH board reviewed the returned proposals for the first time during a meeting Tuesday, but made no decisions surrounding a potential partnership.

"I think at this point there are still more questions than answers," said Mark Marchetti, ACH chief executive officer.

Organizations that submitted proposals include Asante Health System, which runs RVMC; Providence Health & Services of Seattle, which operates Providence in Medford; Catholic Healthcare West of San Francisco; Capella Healthcare of Franklin, Tenn.; and RegionalCare Hospital Partners of Brentwood, Tenn. On Monday, Catholic Healthcare West, the fifth largest hospital system in the nation, changed its name to Dignity Health.

With the help of hired Chicago-based Huron Consulting, the ACH board will work toward narrowing its options for a partnership down to two potential candidates, Marchetti said.

The work will include exchanging information and entering into preliminary negotiations with the organizations for the next two to three weeks, Marchetti said.

"There is still a lot of discussion that needs to take place with these companies before we understand, really, what a partnership will look like," Marchetti said.

Currently, the hospital isn't leaning toward any one of the proposals, said Marchetti, and a final decision isn't expected to be made until May.

Roy Vinyard, Asante Health System president and chief executive officer, said in an email that health-care issues that will affect the communities of the Rogue Valley should be made by the people living here.

"Asante and Ashland Community Hospital both have missions to provide compassionate, high-quality care to the community," Vinyard said. "Both organizations also have a strong commitment to work in collaboration with physicians and other health-care providers in the region. We believe that our vision of providing care for local residents would be enhanced through a partnership with Ashland Community Hospital."

Representatives from Dignity Health did not respond to a request for comment. And both Capella Healthcare and RegionalCare Hospital Partners were not able to respond, because their administrative offices were closed by the time ACH released the names of the organizations that submitted proposals.

Tom Hanenburg, chief executive officer of Providence Medford Medical Center, said in a prepared statement, "It's important that Ashland have a thriving and viable hospital and medical community. Here at Providence, we regularly explore partnerships that would help us improve quality, reduce the cost of care and enhance the patient experience."

Marchetti said it's too early to discuss what a potential partnership will entail, because the returned proposals are "very general."

"Additional analysis and additional information will have to take place before we are in a position to say what is good and what's bad," Marchetti said. "All of the proposals have good points and bad points. "… None is perfect and none is horrible."

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

Marchetti said ACH's relatively small size makes it a challenge to compete with the Medford hospitals. ACH also is 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.

"We are where we want to be," said Marchetti, "and that's a good thing."

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.

Sam Wheeler is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-499-1470 or by email swheeler@dailytidings.com.