Saturday, February 24, 2007

Surprising San Angelo!

The old Chamber of Commerce moniker for my hometown is back, at least symbolically. Two public institutions, Shannon Medical Center and Angelo State University, keep dropping “da bombs” on unwary citizens. Last fall Shannon announced a sale of the nonprofit community hospital to Triad Hospitals while this past week our Texas representative, Drew Darby announced he filed a bill to make Angelo State University part of Texas Tech.

Who got surprised in these new relationships? It wasn't only citizens, but higher ups in both organizations stood with their pants down. Several physician members of the hospital board were unaware of the Triad merger until just before the media announcement. Doesn’t a merger decision require an affirmative vote by the hospital board?

Outdoing the hospital snafu is Rep. Darby’s move. This got perpetrated without the knowledge of two key folks. First up was the Chancellor of the Texas State University System who currently supervises our local university. Leaving out this high state level bureaucrat may have been an oversight or even purposeful. But Drew Darby absoluted tossed a lit paper bag full of dog excrement on the porch of Angelo State University’s new President, Dr. Joseph Rallo. Dr. Rallo is the lone finalist for the President slot. Was he completely clueless of the seismic strategic shift proposed by Drew? If so, Drew's sophomoric hijinks may have stuck the unwary leader.

Who is behind the move? The names of San Angelo’s richest and most powerful dot the list. Guy Choate, Steve Stephens, Lee Pfluger, and Mark McLaughlin are named in the Standard Times article. San Angelo’s power brokers have a history of dealing public institutions.

Len Mertz drove the Shannon Merger with Triad. It stood to be his second nonprofit hospital sale as a board member. The first was the purchase of St. John’s Hospital by Quorum Health Group in the 1990’s. While the recent deal with Triad fell through only weeks after being announced, Shannon has other transactions in the works. The integrated health system built in the 1990’s is being ravaged for the value of its parts. Soon to be spun off is the large multispecialty medical clinic, the Shannon Clinic.

A number of physicians bailed on relocating their practice to San Angelo after the Triad deal hit the news. The clinic’s divorce likely drove away more prospective providers. The question is how many current doctors won’t choose the clinic or a Shannon Medical Center sponsored private practice and just take their shingle out of town? Might there be greener pastures where leaders actually involve them in decision making?

And will this leadership blight spread to the university? Drew Darby’s stunt could jeopardize Angelo State’s new President. Will he remain the lone finalist or pull out of the race? Either way Dr. Rollo got a good taste of San Angelo. One might expect its public institutions to be transparent, to have a clear strategic plan for higher education or healthcare.

Instead we have powerful people doing deals. Do I hear a dollar? Can I get a dollar, a dollar, a dollar…. Sold! And what are they getting?

Could their merger partners be interested in the huge estates that support each institution? Shannon Medical Center is the main reason for the Shannon Trust's existence. Margaret Shannon specified in her will that funds would go toward the building and maintenance of a hospital. Similarly the Carr's left their estate to help fund scholarships at Angelo State University. The college website says the prinicpal is valued at $61 million. The assets of the Shannon Trust are rumored to be 2.5 times this size. Either way, both estates spin off significant resources to support these two public institutions.

Stay tuned as the strange dance continues. Who stays in and who gets out remains to be seen...

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