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This week’s announcements of Mike Poore as the new CEO of Lutheran Health Network were accompanied by a photo of his smiling broadly. Recent news at St. Joe, however, may give him little to smile about.

The American Burn Association (ABA) has confirmed with NICHE that the St. Joseph Regional Burn Center has been removed from its web-based member search list (http://ameriburn.site-ym.com/search/newsearch.asp), because its status is currently “pending”–as it has been for the past three months. The ABA works jointly with the American Academy of Surgeons to certify hospitals.

Community Health Services (CHS) and Lutheran Health Network (LHN) have touted this national verification, calling it “a rare and elite distinction for a non-university program,” for example, on the St. Joe website (see http://www.stjoehospital.com/burn-center-national-verificat…).

St. Joe has long been the only verified burn center within 100 miles of Fort Wayne. Established in 1974 by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ (PHJC), the facility treats about 12,500 patient visits annually (see http://www.stjoehospital.com/burn-center). There will be great hardships for patients and their families if they have to travel elsewhere for these services, with the nearest competitors being in Chicago, Toledo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis.

ABA staff were open and welcoming of questions about St. Joe’s “pending” status. They, and NICHE, are hopeful that the needed deficiencies will be remedied. However, we also acknowledge that three months is a long time to allow low quality to persist. We are certain that Mr. Poore is aware of these deficiencies just as we are. NICHE knows there has been serious cost cutting at St. Joe and that more cuts are planned, given the financial difficulties suffered by its parent, CHS.

Mike Poore has promised to “earn [our] trust” through action and financial investment. A good first step will be to solve deficiencies not only at the burn center, but throughout St. Joseph’s, a hospital that continues the mission established by the PHJC in establishing the hospital in 1869. We count on Mr. Poore, therefore, to avoid proposing some devious “repurposing” of St. Joe or to allow its closure. No new downtown “micro-hospital” or walk-in emergency room can replace it.

Will Community Health Systems allow this investment? And will Mr. Poore continue to smile?