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Ah-Gwah-Ching site might not be feasible for critical access hospital

Essentia has notified Cass County that the health care system will no longer remain as the "lead provider" in formulating a vision for a Critical Access Hospital (CAH) on the former Ah-Gwah-Ching site.

The not-for-profit health care system headquartered in Duluth notified Cass County Commissioners this week of its decision to modify the relationship from lead to support provider.

"Progress has been made, yet critical hurdles remain," Michael Hedrix, Essentia Community Hospitals and Clinics senior vice president, wrote in a memo to the board.

In a 2007 feasibility study drafted by ECHC, three key items were identified as essential, Hedrix said. These include an integrated medical staff model, a federal CAH legislative waiver (due to the proximity to St. Joseph's Area Health Services) and capital formation.

"Though partial success has been achieved related to the federal CAH waiver, these keys remain elusive," he said. "In addition, the economic recession and upheaval in the capital markets, increasing health care mergers and acquisitions, along with the uncertainties of national health care reform, together have formed a tenuous environment for new market development."

As a result, ECHC "must modify its existing relationship from lead provider to support provider. With this change, ECHC proposes to lease new clinic space for Innovis providers and support the operations of a new hospital and medical staff," Hedrix stated.

John Warren, chair of the CAH task force, said per this week's board directive, the task force will be reconstituted and lay out plans with a new provider so when the economy recovers and health care reform criteria have been determined, "we're ready to go."

"The medical field is changing rapidly," he said of mergers and acquisitions. Originally, the county worked with Benedictine Health Systems.

"I'm confident we'll get through this economic downturn," Warren said. "This won't be resolved in two months," he said. "But a proposal will be ready when the economy recovers."