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A brief breaking news item: NICHE has learned that Community Health Systems (CHS) intends to make an offer on downtown property for the stated purpose of building a hospital–”an investment in Fort Wayne.”. This would be property for which the City of Fort Wayne does not yet hold title. It is also a property considered a “brownfield” that may, for a new use, need remediation (see http://brownfieldaction.org/brownfieldact…/brownfield_basics). We understand that Mayor Henry has been non-committal for obvious reasons since control and appraisals of the property are incomplete. NICHE was informed that the Mayor preferred that LHN CEO Michael Poore withhold the offer for the present time. We expect that CHS may disregard this advice and make an announcement.

Why would he do so? What we suspect:
– CHS would seem to be looking to justify the closing of St. Joseph’s Hospital–which NICHE believes that CHS has under-supported, both by lack of investment and by inadequate staffing, contributing to falling income.
– An announcement by CHS of a new hospital might create much-needed positive publicity for those who believe such promises.

What this means:
– Should this scenario be accurate, CHS would appear to lack understanding both of process and local culture.
– CHS will face serious hurdles in moving forward with these plans. Fort Wayne City administration and City Council would both be involved in approvals of any use of the property and of its environmental remediation, and Council has publicly voiced disappointment in Community Health Systems management in the recent past. One City Council member was heard to say that he would oppose such as action more vehemently than anything put before Council during his tenure.
– It seems imprudent–tone deaf–to press for an announcement that could be embarrassing to the very parties that one must deal with going forward.
– Announcing “we will build a hospital and make an investment in Fort Wayne” means little without details. When will ground be broken? What is the size–beds, equipment, services, etc.? Words are cheap. Without details such an announcement is little more than a fairy tale.
– Did not CHS accuse the “Brave 10” doctors of making a low offer with inadequate preparation? (See http://wane.com/…/physician-groups-2-4b-offer-to-buy-luther…) Is this any different?

This is familiar territory for property development. Promises with no cash deposit? Without drawings, without scope? Without an acceptable plan for remediation? Promises to earn our trust? Or is it just noise? You decide.