RMC official talks hospital changeover
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
Joe Weaver has been spending a lot of time in Jacksonville lately.

A senior vice president and chief operating officer of Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center, Weaver has been in town to oversee the transition at Jacksonville Medical Center after its purchase by RMC from Capella Healthcare Systems took effect on Jan. 1.

“We are extremely excited about this acquisition,” he told members of the Kiwanis Club at their meeting Wednesday. “We think long-term it’s going to be an excellent fit not only for this community but for what we’re looking at doing down in Anniston as well.”

Weaver told Kiwanians that purchasing the Jacksonville Medical Center, now known as RMC Jacksonville, has long been part of RMC’s strategy to expand and remain viable under healthcare reform.

“The healthcare dollar has continued to shrink,” Weaver said, noting that for every dollar the hospital bills out, it gets 18 cents in return. RMC, he said, gets one of the lowest reimbursement rates in one of the lowest-reimbursed state in the country.

“We really have to work hard to stretch that dollar as far as we can,” he said.

And according to Weaver, the hospital owes a lot to managers who continue to make that happen. In order to expand its ability to pull in revenue, RMC began to look to other facilities.

About two years ago, RMC officials met with Capella to begin talks, he said, but a misunderstanding led Capella officials to believe RMC had wanted to sell to Capella. After that, Weaver said, things lay dormant for nearly two years until this fall, when it became clear that Capella wanted to sell Jacksonville Medical Center, the last of the company’s properties in Alabama.

The Jacksonville acquisition is part of a multi-pronged approach to expand its patient base through purchase of urgent care facilities, physician practices and rural clinics, Weaver said.

RMC’s expansion all started down in Randolph County, when it purchased the rural health clinic in Wedowee. “After we purchased that, things just sort of took off,” he said, adding that they purchased several practices and are now building a 10,000 square-foot urgent care center in Roanoke and is slated to open this summer.

“Our physician acquisition strategy has been very aggressive,” he said.

In 2009, RMC owned one physician practice, Weaver said, but over the last few years RMC has employed or acquired 10 practices, and with the purchase of JMC, that numbers jumps to 16. RMC is also looking to place more physicians in Jacksonville and also in Piedmont and Weaver.

He said RMC officials hope to expand services in Jacksonville, particularly bringing in specialists to serve the northern end of the county.

Weaver said RMC is continually looking to add new primary care practitioners, which are difficult to find.

Over next 10 years, he said, some projections say there could be a shortage of as many as 40,000 physicians, most of which will be in the area of primary care.

One of the opportunities that come with the purchase of JMC is a telemedicine project currently in the works there through Alabama Healthy Communities, which connects patients to local practitioners and remote specialists through skype-like services that incorporate remote stethoscopes and other equipment for observation by out-of-town doctors. “We’re already talking about that,” Weaver said. “That’s going to be a huge plus for us.”
© 2013