JEFFERSON CITY - University Hospital employees shouldn't celebrate the end to talks with Tenet Healthcare Corp. too soon. The University president has left open the possibility Tenet could be back in the picture in the future.
George Russell told a Missouri House appropriations committee Wednesday that although he has broken off the negotiations with Tenet for the time being, he isn't sure the Board of Curators will allow that split to be a permanent one.
"I would be surprised if the board would enter any negotiations with Tenet. A year or six months from now, that might change," Russell said.
Rep. Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, a member of the Education and Public Safety Appropriations Committee, questioned Russell during the meeting about what the future holds for University Hospital.
Russell said the hospital will try to stay independent of any companies for the time being.
"The major avenue I think we will explore is going it alone, but that may involve working with another hospital," Russell said. Russell didn't specify which hospitals are being considered as possible partners.
Gaw said he isn't sure why Russell is leaving the door open to future Tenet negotiations.
"The only thing I got in terms of the reason for allowing later negotiations was maybe because the pressure wouldn't be as high later on," Gaw said.
Russell said the hostile political climate was the reason he took it upon himself to break off the Tenet negotiations. "Politically it was turning in to a bit of a nightmare."
For now, Russell said, the hospital is solvent enough to continue running without latching onto another company. University Hospital turned a profit of $20 million last year. But if that changes, Russell said, the hospital will need another source of income to keep paying for new additions, such as the ambulatory care center that is under construction.
"There are some teaching hospitals that were profitable two years ago that aren't profitable today," Russell said.
Gaw said that he and other legislators will continue to oppose Tenet, even if the issue doesn't resurface for several months.
"If it came back up again, I don't see my objection to Tenet changing in six months from what it was two weeks ago," Gaw said.
Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Columbia, who attended the meeting, said he thought Russell's comments were unexpected.
"I was very surprised of two things: that he didn't completely close the door on Tenet, and that that this was something the Board of Curators previously decided but Dr. Russell ended the negotiations," Harlan said.
Harlan also said he wasn't aware that Russell could make decisions such as ending the Tenet negotiations without the prior approval of the Board of Curators.
Gaw also questioned Russell's unilateral decision to end Tenet negotiations.
"I don't know who's the boss there. I thought it was the Board of Curators," Gaw said.