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Construction continues at Wyoming Medical Center

Construction continues at Wyoming Medical Center in downtown Casper, Wyo., as crews clear the ground for what will be a new medical tower on the campus of the medical center on Wednesday evening. Hospital officials are considering their next move for the campus after a partnership plan with the Cheyenne hospital fell through over the summer.

CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming Medical Center won’t rush into a new venture following the collapse of partnership talks with Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, WMC’s top official said last week.

The concern that drove Wyoming’s two largest hospitals to explore the partnership -- increased competition from large, out-of-state providers -- still exists. But WMC’s leadership will regroup before deciding what to do next, said President Vickie Diamond.

“We just don’t know what we want yet,” she said. “But we definitely know we are going to have to do something.”

The hospital’s board and top administrators plan to gather at a retreat this fall to consider their options. Mergers, affiliation agreements or simply going it alone are all possibilities.

Diamond said it’s important that any venture meshes with the existing culture insides the hospital, and within the larger community.

“Just being a notch in somebody else’s belt isn’t what we want,” she said. “What is the advantage to us?”

WMC and Cheyenne Regional announced in April they had begun exploring a partnership. Officials said they were concerned about competition from large health system that could afford to offer medical services at lower prices. In theory, combining forces would allow the two hospitals to cut costs and keep patients from fleeing to neighboring states.

“If we can’t align with other institutions to provide that service, we are going to be a transport system,” WMC board Chairman Chris Muirhead said at the time. “We will triage and transport people to other major institutions, and I don’t want that to happen for my family, my citizens and my employees.”

Talks halted three months later when the two sides ran into difficulties because of their different ownership and governance structures.

The concerns about outside competition still exist, but Wyoming Medical Center can afford to take two to three years to make a decision, Diamond said. The hospital, which is more isolated than other medical facilities in Wyoming, isn’t losing significant market share to facilities in neighboring states.

After the Cheyenne partnership talks ended, Diamond said she was contacted by several outside health systems. She told them WMC needed to regroup before officials there would be ready to discuss new ventures.

“There is no immediate need to rush out, we don’t think,” she said.

WMC could look outside the state for a partner, Diamond said. Ivinson Memorial Hospital chose that route earlier this summer when it announced plans to enter into a management agreement with University of Colorado Health. The Laramie hospital had been involved in discussions about joining the partnership between WMC and Cheyenne Regional.

Partnership talks would likely raise concerns that some local medical services would move to regional medical centers in neighboring states. But Diamond said hospital officials would make it clear, before entering into a business relationship, that medical services now provided in Casper need to remain in the community.

The hospital could also examine ventures with other Wyoming hospitals. But that option could lead to some of the same issues that derailed talks with Cheyenne Regional. Many of the state’s hospitals are county or district owned, which would make it more difficult to create a workable structure with the non-profit Wyoming Medical Center, she said.

The hospital could also decide to continue as an independent institution. But that would raise other questions, Diamond said.

“Are we large enough to be able to do the discounting or the costs reductions to be really highly competitive?” she asked.

Going it alone could expose Wyoming Medical Center to the possibility of an out-of-state takeover from a bigger organization. Cheyenne Regional rebuffed an unsolicited takeover offer from Tennessee-based RegionalCare Hospital Partners last year.

A takeover in Casper could potentially lead to a loss of local services, Diamond said.