Wyoming Medical Center has announced an agreement to acquire Mountain View Regional Hospital in Casper, WMC announced Wednesday morning.
Mountain View is slated to begin operating under the WMC banner in the first half of the year, according to the release. No details about the deal were provided and WMC spokeswoman Kristy Bleizeffer said the hospital would have no comment until after the deal was finalized.
“WMC has served Casper patients and families for more than a century. Over the years, we have evolved to meet patient and community needs in a rapidly changing healthcare market, and we continue to evolve as conditions require,” WMC CEO Michele Chulick said in a statement.
“The acquisition of Mountain View Regional Hospital is simply one more step in that evolution,” Chulick, who took over as CEO last July, continued, “and is being undertaken based on the belief that it will allow WMC to more effectively fulfill our core non-profit mission: ‘To advance the health and wellness of our region and community by providing excellent healthcare services and exceptional experience at reasonable costs.’”
Wyoming Medical Center is one of the largest hospitals in the state. Mountain View, based in east Casper, is more specialized, offering “inpatient and outpatient surgery, with a specialty in neurosurgery, as well as on-site imaging and musculoskeletal physician services across the state of Wyoming,” according to the release.
Wyoming Hospital Association president Eric Boley said that only Casper and Rock Springs have multiple hospitals. In addition to Wyoming Medical Center and Mountain View, Casper is also home to Summit Medical Center.
Boley said that the merger of the two facilities was a positive step for Casper and tracks a nationwide trend. He said that larger hospitals often acquire smaller, more specialized hospitals in order to consolidate market share and offer a more complete suite of services to patients.
“What happened in Casper with Mountain View is not uncommon,” Boley said.
Mountain View was founded by three former WMC neurosurgeons in 2008 after a dispute over their desire to have their own operating room team. The hospital expanded beyond neurosurgery and opened an emergency room, eventually siphoning enough business from WMC that the larger facility lost its “sole community provider status” in 2011, which cost it millions in federal funding.
At the time, WMC officials and a Natrona County commissioner blamed Mountain View.
“The worst thing that happened to health care in this community was the for-profit hospital,” Bill McDowell, a former county commissioner and WMC board member, said in 2011.
Boley noted that while some health care analysts argue that competition between multiple hospitals in a community is good, WMC was handicapped by its obligation to take care of all patients.
“WMC has been basically the community hospital that’s taking care of Medicare, Medicaid, the uninsured, so it was unfair competition,” Boley said. “This levels that playing field.”
The sour relationship between the two hospitals apparently mended in recent years. The deal has been rumored to be in negotiations since July 2017, as previous CEO Vickie Diamond was preparing to retire. Mountain View also hired a new CEO last year, promoting Chief Financial Officer Renee Schroyer.
Schroyer and Chulick both listed collaborations with other Wyoming health care providers as primary goals.
“Mountain View was created to provide a hospital with a dedicated focus on musculoskeletal disease,” said Todd Hammond, founder and current chairman of Mountain View’s board. “During its eight years of operations, it has been successful in achieving this mission as evidenced by its numerous awards and recognitions. ... By becoming part of WMC, we are now able to continue that focus and have the advantage of access to their tertiary facility and the many outstanding caregivers on their staff.”
County deal continues
Wyoming Medical Center operates as a quasi-public institution, with Natrona County owning the hospital’s buildings as well as major equipment like MRI machines, said County Commission Chairman John Lawson. WMC leases back that property for $1 per year and in exchange provides care to the indigent and absorbs the cost of any unpaid debts for patient care.
“It really works out well for the county to be sure those kind of services continue to be provided to the community at-large,” Lawson said.
Lawson said he believes that WMC is purchasing Mountain View’s hospital building in east Casper and assuming control of the staff, but that the land that Mountain View leased to build its facility would remain in the hands of an investment group. WMC would then turn over control of the Mountain View building to the county and lease it back for $1 per year as part of its larger arrangement with the commissioners.