ROCHESTER Frisbie Memorial HospitalÂ’s proposed merger with the for-profit company that owns Portsmouth Regional Hospital would result in a roughly $20 million nonprofit community foundation, hospital officials disclosed publicly for the first time Monday.
Jim Jalbert, the vice chair of FrisbieÂ’s board of directors, provided the rough estimation Monday night during a public hearing for the pending merger with HCA Healthcare.
Â“WeÂ’re hopeful it will be around $20 million,Â” said Jalbert. Â“It could be a little less, it could be a little more. We donÂ’t know yet, but weÂ’re confident itÂ’s going to do great work.Â”
Jalbert disclosed the rough figure in response to recent requests for clarity from residents and officials about the foundation that would be created to serve the greater Rochester community if HCA is ultimately allowed to purchase the nonprofit Frisbie for $67 million and convert it into a for-profit hospital.
MondayÂ’s hearing was held as part of the state attorney generalÂ’s nearly finished regulatory review of the proposed merger, which Frisbie and HCA announced at the beginning of 2019.
HCA operates 186 hospitals and 124 surgery centers in 21 states and the United Kingdom. Its New Hampshire facilities are Portsmouth Regional Hospital and Parkland Medical Center in Derry.
The question and answer period of MondayÂ’s public hearing was dominated by questions about how the community might be impacted if Frisbie does in fact merge with HCA.
Hospital and HCA officials assured Monday the foundation would be independent of HCAÂ’s control and operating expenses.
They also said HCA has a strong commitment to serving the community, particularly the underinsured and uninsured people who make up 12 percent of FrisbieÂ’s patient base. They demonstrated this by stating well-regarded services like FrisbieÂ’s ambulance service will continue, and by stating HCA plans to expand behavioral health offerings and amenities at the hospital.
Â“We think we are better together,Â” said Tim McManus, the president of the HCA division that oversees Portsmouth Regional and, if the state approves the merger, Frisbie. Â“We want to make sure weÂ’re taking care of all of those patients, regardless of their ability to pay.Â”
State Rep. Sandra Keans, D-Rochester, said during the question and answer period Monday a $20 million foundation Â“sounds like a pittance.Â”
She did so while expressing remorse the foundationÂ’s endowment has been reduced by FrisbieÂ’s significant financial losses.
Â“ItÂ’s pretty scary for us who live in this area,Â” she said.
FrisbieÂ’s losses, which number in the millions, are among the reasons why the hospital is looking to join HCA.
Jalbert said the hospital owes $30 million in debt, in part because of its mortgage, a recent $25 million electronic records system changeover that was fraught with problems, and the increased cost of healthcare.
Â“This is a very, very serious situation,Â” Health Law and Policy Principal Katharine London said while giving a presentation ahead of MondayÂ’s question and answer period. Â“I canÂ’t remember a hospitalÂ’s finances declining quite so quickly in the hospitals IÂ’ve reviewed over the years.Â”
State Sen. Jim Gray, R-Rochester, said he believed a $20 million foundation Â“is a good thing.Â” He also said heÂ’s pleased the hospitalÂ’s current board will appoint local community members to oversee the foundationÂ’s endowment.
Betsey Andrews Parker, the executive director of Community Action Partnership of Strafford County, urged HCA to tread carefully with the structuring and independence of the foundation because she said Portsmouth RegionalÂ’s merger left a Â“black eyeÂ” in the community.
HCAÂ’s acquisition of Portsmouth Regional included various public conflicts, including a state Supreme Court suit that ended in HCAÂ’s favor.
Â“IÂ’m going to stick to what I said,Â” Jalbert said while responding to Andrews ParkerÂ’s request for guarantees about FrisbieÂ’s foundation. Â“You can be sure of that.Â”
Andrews Parker also suggested Monday the financial health of PortsmouthÂ’s foundation, the Foundation for Seacoast Health, is poor.
Debra Grabowski, Foundation for Seacoast HealthÂ’s executive director, later refuted those claims, stating the foundation has $40 million in assets and annually invests over $1 million in the Portsmouth community.
Rochester Mayor Caroline McCarley said during MondayÂ’s session she found Frisbie and HCAÂ’s presentations Â“very reassuring,Â” particularly since the merger aims to provide greater mental health and substance use disorder assistance than what Frisbie currently offers.
McCarley also asked HCA and Frisbie to allow the city of Rochester to Â“have a seat at whatever tables there areÂ” during the creation of the new foundation.
The city recorded MondayÂ’s public hearing and will rebroadcast it on its government channel and website.
Members of the public can submit comments and concerns about the proposed Frisbie-HCA merger until this Friday. Comments may be submitted by email at Charitabletrusts2@doj.nh.gov or by regular mail to Director of Charitable Trusts, Department of Justice, 33 Capitol St., Concord, NH 03301.