Owner of Franklin and Laconia hospitals declares bankruptcy; Concord Hospital seeks to buy them

  • Lakes Region General Hospital has 137 beds while Franklin Hospital has 25 beds. Concord Hospital has 221 beds. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 10/19/2020 10:23:05 AM

Buffeted by the pandemic coming on top of long-term changes in health care, the owner of Franklin Regional Hospital and Lakes Region General Hospital has declared bankruptcy, with Concord Hospital stepping up as a suitor.

Monday’s decision by two of the state’s smallest hospitals to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy is part of a general pattern of industry consolidation within the state and the nation. LRGHealthcare, which owns the Lakes Region and Franklin hospitals, is almost alone among New Hampshire’s 26 acute-care facilities in not having already made connections with other institutions that are often mergers in all but name.

LRGHealthcare furloughed workers in April when it said it was losing $1 million a month due to COVID-19 shutting down profitable services while increasing costs, but even before the pandemic it was struggling. Franklin Hospital shut its surgical facility in 2018 and in 2019 both hospitals closed their maternity wards. LRGHealthcare has been seeking merger partners for two years: In a statement filed Monday the company said it had “reached out to 43 potential partners, which resulted in five non-binding indications of interest in 2018,” and was close to reaching an agreement with Concord Hospital when the pandemic upended everything.

The company’s filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Concord listed liabilities of between $100 million and $500 million, including the $111 million mortgage held by Key Bank and insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and in “underfunded pension liability.” Among unsecured creditors are the state of New Hampshire with a $5.25 million loan, Laconia Clinic with a $1.4 million professional service agreement, and Eversource, which is owed $764,000.

On Monday, Concord Hospital submitted a $30 million bid to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to acquire the two hospitals and associated ambulatory services.

No other institutions had submitted a bid as of Monday afternoon.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy is designed to give companies time to restructure debts so they can reorganize business affairs.

Concord Hospital and LRGHealthcare have decades of increasingly tight connections. Concord provides referrals for advanced services such as cancer care, cardiac surgery and urology for the other facilities, and took over maternity services in 2018. Both institutions are non-profits.

The bankruptcy and any purchase must go through both the federal bankruptcy court as well as oversight by the charitable trust and antitrust divisions of the state Attorney General’s Office. New Hampshire legislators tightened that oversight in 2019 out of concern that hospital consolidations will leave parts of the state poorly served.

In the past two years, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Healthcare has agreed to join forces with Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, while the small Frisbie Hospital in Rochester has been bought by the conglomerate that owns Portsmouth Regional Hospital. Previously, Elliot Hospital in Manchester and Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua linked operations, four small North Country hospitals became affiliated, and Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover was bought by Massachusetts General Hospital.

The state and federal oversight processes will take at least six to nine months, said Robert Steigmeyer, Concord Hospital President and CEO.

Concord Hospital will be holding community forums starting next week on what might happen if the purchase goes through, starting with a virtual on Tuesday, October 27, at 6 p.m., on Zoom. Go to concordhospital.org/lrghealthcare to register to attend this virtual meeting.

Steigmeyer said he expected changes to be “incremental” rather than sweeping in terms of the future of the Franklin and Laconia hospitals.

“Coming out of due diligence, we think they do make sense,” Steigmeyer said of the facilities. “I know we will need to make investments in primary care to serve the region.”

“When you look across the country you see the struggles of more rural facilities, smaller healthcare facilities, so I think the aggregation is helpful. There are economies of scale, synergies to obtain,” he said. “It is increasingly difficult for small rural facilities to stand alone without a colleague or partner.”

The Laconia Daily Sun reported that Kevin W. Donovan, LRGH president and chief executive officer, said no layoffs or benefit reductions are planned for the system’s 1,400 full- and part-time employees, and that health care services offered to the public will remain in place.

Donovan’s statement filed with bankruptcy court places much of the blame on tens of millions of dollars in bonds purchased in 2006 through 2008 to pay for $51 million in expansions at the Franklin and Laconia hospitals, “decisions by prior management to make significant investments in inpatient services and facilities at a time when patient demographics and medical trends indicated more reliance on outpatient services and decreased hospital use.”

The statement said that huge debt load was a major reason so many firms didn’t want to buy LRGHealthcare.

“LRGHealthcare found itself caught in a downward spiral of increasing costs, decreasing reimbursement, shrinking service lines and volume ‘leakage’ to other communities. A primary driver of cost growth was the implementation of a massively expensive electronic medical record system that ultimately consumed approximately nine percent of total organizational revenue annually (two to three times the industry average),” Donovan’s statement said.

Franklin Hospital, with 25 staffed patients beds, is the smallest hospital in the state by that metric. Lakes Region, with 137 beds, is the fourth-smallest according to the American Hospital Directory. Concord Hospital, by contrast, has 221 beds, while Elliot Hospital in Manchester has 240 and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon has 422, about one-fifth of the state’s total.

Franklin Hospital was founded in 1910. Lakes Region Hospital dates to 1908.

In New Hampshire, the combinations among hospitals are many and varied. They include the joining of forces between Elliot Hospital in Manchester and Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua; the marriage-of-equals affiliation among four small North Country hospitals; the purchase of Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover by Boston-area giant Massachusetts General Hospital, and Conway’s Memorial Hospital getting further absorbed into MaineHealth, a hospital network in the Pine Tree State.

The idea of New Hampshire hospitals joining forces has not always worked out. The biggest object lesson was Optima Healthcare, a merger of Elliot Hospital and Catholic Medical Center in Manchester along with St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua, which fell apart after four years due in part of community opposition.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)



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