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Hospital Board votes to restructure Tift Regional Health System

Tift Regional will transition from a hospital authority operation to a federally-designated nonprofit organization

The Hospital Authority of Tift County voted on Wednesday to undertake a corporate restructuring of Tift Regional Health System (“TRHS”) in order to better position itself to meet the current and future health care challenges.

At the regular monthly meeting of the Hospital Authority of Tift County, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to take steps to convert TRHS into a charitable nonprofit organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service code. The restructuring process is estimated to take about twelve months.

“About 16 percent of Georgia’s 159 hospitals still operate under a hospital authority,” said Jimmy Allen, Chairman of the Hospital Authority of Tift County. “Most hospitals converted to a 501(c)(3) organization years ago. Our current structure under a hospital authority has its advantages, but it can also constrain outreach and growth.” Examples of area health care facilities that no longer operate as a hospital authority include WellStar Health System in Marietta, Archbold Memorial Hospital in Thomasville, Coffee Regional Medical Center in Douglas, and Crisp Regional Hospital in Cordele. Tift Regional and South Georgia Medical Center are the only two remaining large Hospital Authority owned organizations in Georgia.

Hospital Authorities can only undertake projects that are specifically authorized under the Georgia Hospital Authorities Law. Additionally, the Georgia Hospital Authorities Law limits the ability of a hospital authority to own or operate health care facilities outside its own geographic area. These limitations restrain the ability of TRHS to operate in today's competitive market. “If an outside county does not touch the Tift County border, we are restricted on the services we can establish in that county, even if specific medical needs have been identified,” said Allen. “When Tift Regional restructures, the system will be able to broaden its scope of services and service area.”

In many ways, the future existence of TRHS depends on its ability to adapt to the changing winds of health care reform. Government health care programs have begun to tie hospital payments to patient outcomes. These changes in reimbursements coupled with the restrictions in the Hospital Authorities Law creates a substantial financial burden. Corporate restructuring is one of the major tools to ensure strategic flexibility for the future to allow for expansion of services and market share growth. Unfortunately, saddled with the legal limitations mentioned above, in its current Hospital Authority structure, TRHS will be at a distinct disadvantage to confront these changes.

Christopher Dorman, TRHS President/CEO, said the time to restructure is now as the healthcare market evolves and the demand for expanded services and offerings continues to grow.

“Only 50 percent of Tift Regional’s patients come from Tift County,” said Dorman. “The other 50 percent comes from our 11 surrounding counties and beyond. Having a regional presence allows us to offer services in fields of medicine such as oncology, cardiovascular care, and surgical specialties. These are services normally reserved for larger metropolitan cities. By expanding our scope of services and service area, we envision offering additional specialties in the future.”

Dorman said the aim is to provide needed specialty services for area residents without the long drive away from work, home and family. “Our growing network of care means that local citizens won’t have to travel far for advanced care,” he stated. “Improving access and enhancing the health of the population are the ultimate goals.”

Dorman said restructuring will bolster TRHS’s status as an economic driver in Tift and surrounding counties. “Currently, TRHS has more than 2,400 employees and an impact of $554 million on the local economy,” He stated. "As we expand our footprint in the region and increase volume, we’ll also have to increase our employee base. It will positively impact independent practices, support services, suppliers and vendors in the region as well.”

Allen said that current board leadership will remain at the helm while subsidiary boards are formed to oversee key areas such as acute care services, physician services and population health management.

“We are excited to embark on this journey because it will positively impact the health and wellness of more people in our region,” said Allen. “As we go through this transformational process, we will keep the community updated on the development of the new organizational structure and its benefits to patient care.”