By MYRA THRIFT
Staff Writer
An announcement by Mayo Clinic Health System in Waycross that the corporation will turn operation of the local hospital back over to the Waycross community was stunning news in Waycross and southeast Georgia Friday.
Employees of the hospital were told at a 10 a.m. meeting Friday that Mayo plans to give up its holdings here and turn the daily operations of the regional hospital and connected facilities over to local control.
Lewis “Bo” Altman, who chairs the Ware Hospital Authority, said he was taken by surprise by the announcement.
“I think it will take a long while for (the transition) to be completed,” said Altman. “We don’t know how long it will take but I believe it will be a long process.”
It has been less than four years since Mayo procured the local hospital — Satilla Regional Medical Center — and made sweeping changes at the facility and within the community’s healthcare network.
“We don’t have many complaints either,” said Altman. “Mayo has done so much here. They paid off our bond issue. They have accomplished so much paving and building. I really hate to see them go.”
Altman said he learned of the plan late in the day Thursday.
Altman explained that the hospital authority here owns the facility and, “… we just leased it to Mayo.”
The Ware Hospital Authority board is made up of four local members, Owen Herrin, Z.A. Music, Dr. Don Waters and Dr. Wade Dye, along with four officials from Mayo.
Altman said it remains to be seen what will transpire with regard to the pending transition.
“We will be totally involved but there is just so much to look into,” said Altman. “We have met monthly since the hospital merged with Mayo. This is all very new. It came on so fast.”
Gianrico Farrugia, the CEO of Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus in Jacksonville, said the transition will be gradual and will be handled “with great care.” He said the Mayo system will work closely with the local hospital board to ensure a “smooth and seamless transition.”
Waycross Mayor-elect John Knox spoke with John Presutti, CEO of Mayo Clinic Health System in Waycross around noon Friday.
“He told me that the Mayo board in Jacksonville decided to transition their facility there into a high specialty needs type facility and that a community hospital does not fit their business model,” said Knox. “He said they are planning to turn the hospital here back over to the local board of directors.”
Knox said Presutti told him that the hospital will continue for the forseeable future to function as is with no change in provision of care or services offered.
“He indicated to me that it will continue to function as it is now and will continue at the same level,” said Knox.
A prepared statement was released by Kevin Punsky, external communications manager for Mayo’s Division of Public Affairs.
“Mayo Clinic will end the integration agreement between Mayo Clinic and Satilla Health Services that created Mayo Clinic Health System in Waycross in March 2012 and return governance to the community directors,” the release stated.
Punsky said the decision is based on Mayo’s shift to focus on expanding specialty treatment for people with complex health conditions. Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville campus is focusing on developing a destination medical center for patients throughout the Southeast and across the United States, he said. Going forward, Mayo will concentrate on building relationships with other providers through affiliation models, rather than acquisitions.
Employees at Mayo in Waycross will continue to work at the medical center during a lengthy transition with no planned changes on the staff, an official in Jacksonville said.
“There are no immediate plans to change anything,” said a Jacksonville Mayo spokesman. “Waycross hospital employees will continue to provide great service and care to patients in the community. Decisions about the future of the Waycross hospital depend on the direction of the community board of directors and new leadership.”
Said Farrugia: “Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus has been privileged to work with hospital staff in Waycross, and we are honored to have been a part of the Waycross community. We are committed to helping patients, staff and the community through this transition, and will provide resources, including a transition team, to work with the hospital’s board of directors on a seamless and smooth transition. This transition will not be immediate, and our focus will be on supporting our patients and staff throughout this process.”
The Waycross hospital, doctors and staff will continue to care for patients in Waycross and the surrounding community, Punsky’s statement indicated. The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville will continue to care for patients in Waycross (and across Georgia) who need comprehensive specialty care for complex conditions, it stated.
Altman’s praise for Mayo’s tenure here were echoed by others on the local hospital authority board.
“I’m very grateful for the positive relationship we’ve had over the past three-and-a half years with leadership, physicians and staff at Mayo Clinic in Florida,” said Owen Herrin, past chairman of Satilla Health Services. “During this time, Mayo Clinic has helped the hospital achieve advancements in quality of care and improved hospital facilities by bringing in the latest technology to assist patients. Along with Mayo Clinic, we are deeply committed to a smooth transition and moving forward to meet the needs of our patients, staff and the region.”
Mayo Clinic is a non-profit organization committed to medical research and education. For more information, visit on the worldwide web at mayoclinic.com or newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org