CLAXTON — Until now, any similarity between the names of Memorial Health in Savannah and Evans Memorial Hospital in Claxton was accidental. But Thursday, officials of the two hospital organizations announced an agreement to join forces.
At a news conference in the Evans Memorial lobby, officials took care to note that the agreement is only an affiliation, or “strategic partnership,” not a purchase or lease. The smaller Claxton hospital will remain independent. But its leaders, such as CEO Martha Tatum and board Chairman Carroll Anderson, said they hope to call on Memorial Health’s greater resources for purchasing supplies, contracting services and recruiting physicians.
“Most importantly, this agreement ensures that Evans Memorial Hospital will remain locally owned and operated,” Anderson said. “Memorial will not manage us or buy us. The two organizations will work together in a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Evans Memorial Hospital, founded in 1968, is publicly owned by the Hospital Authority of Evans County and operated as a nonprofit corporation called EMH Inc. Licensed for 49 beds, the acute-care hospital maintains just 27 beds, more closely matching its patient numbers.
Like many small hospitals, Evans Memorial has struggled financially in recent years, and affiliation with Memorial Health is one in a series of moves intended to keep the Claxton hospital solvent for the long run. Last summer, EMH Inc. sold its largest off-campus asset, Glenvue Health and Rehabilitation, a 166-bed nursing home in Glennville, to AdCare Health Systems for more than $8 million. Currently, EMH Inc. and the Evans County Board of Commissioners are completing a shift of the county’s ambulance service from hospital supervision to the direct control of the county government.
Continuing changes to Medicare and Medicaid and the phasing in of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, also helped motivate the Claxton hospital to seek a larger partner, Tatum said.
Memorial Health, also a nonprofit, owns 610-bed Memorial University Medical Center and a number of clinics in Savannah. With about 4,500 employees, Memorial Health is Chatham County’s second-largest employer, said CEO Maggie Gill. Evans Memorial, employing about 200 people, is an important employer for Evans County and has a $50 million annual budget.
A more detailed report on the affiliation and the reasons for it will appear in Sunday’s Statesboro Herald.