Barry Ostrowsky and Gary Horan joked that the reason it took so long for RWJBarnabas Health to complete the deal to acquire Trinitas Regional Medical Center was because the two had so much to talk about as old friends that they never got down to the details of the deal.
That’s only partially true.
Ostrowsky, the CEO of RWJBH, and Horan, the head of Trinitas, have been friends for decades. But, in the past year, since the organizations announced they were looking to combine, they got plenty done.
As part of the agreement announced Wednesday, RWJBH will make significant capital upgrades to Trinitas. Ostrowsky laid out the details.
“Gary and I sat down and mapped out a strategic plan that calls for the development and construction of two ambulatory centers, which will be a big investment for us,” he said. “We’re also putting in the Epic information platform that will be extended to the Trinitas facilities.
“And, of course, behavioral health is critical in today’s world, more than it ever has been. It is a very big commitment of ours and that of Trinitas, which has distinguished itself in that area. And, so, we’ll be investing in those programs as we put the systems together.
“The capital commitment is real. And, in fact, we’ll show real results quickly after we consummate the merger.”
There’s no reason to believe the merger will not go through — it just needs to undergo the standard review.
Horan said he is thrilled with the upgrades. While Trinitas has performed admirably for years — especially during the spring surge of COVID-19 — he acknowledged that having the depth of services that RWJBH brings will help Trinitas moving forward. Especially if COVID returns even stronger than it is now.
“There’s no doubt that there would be a benefit,” he said. “Our big challenge is making sure we can keep a good stockpile of (personal protective equipment). That’s where I think we might get some assistance from our relationship with RWJBH. And we’ll be able to draw from any kind of clinical expertise they may have, too.”
Of course, this deal was not about the short term. It’s about the long-term success of Trinitas.
“We look at this as an enhancement to the feeling that we’ve had when we merged Elizabeth General with St. Elizabeth Hospital in the year 2000,” Horan said. “We see this not only as an enhancement, but, frankly, as a way to ensure the future of Trinitas and its commitment to the mission to the community that it’s had for all these different years.”
Trinitas’ status as a Catholic Hospital will not change. That was assured, too. In September, Barnabas signed a definitive agreement to integrate with another Catholic hospital, Saint Peter’s University Hospital, in New Brunswick, in which the hospital’s beliefs remain at the forefront of care.
Horan said that was part of the framework of this deal, too.
“That was something that we felt very strongly about,” he said.
And, while RWJBH will become the corporate parent of Trinitas, the Trinitas board will continue to oversee day-to-day operations of Trinitas.
As is always the case in the health care world, final approvals of the deal will be necessary from state and federal authorities — and, in this case, the Catholic Church — before the transaction is considered complete.
That process could take up to one year. Not that Ostrowsky or Horan will mind.
“It’s a very good feeling to be able to sit down and conduct a transaction where the folks involved not only trust one another, but realize it’s not about the glamour of the deal, but it’s about what it can deliver,” Ostrowsky said.
“I joked that this took a long time to negotiate, because we had so much fun meeting, we almost didn’t get to the end. But it’s really a great relationship for us.”
Here are additional thoughts from Ostrowsky and Horan on the deal, offered in a question-and-answer format:
ROI-NJ: RWJBH has the ability to do a deal with any number of health care entities; what made this deal feel right?
Barry Ostrowsky: I think it boils down to a few elements. No. 1, we have very similar if not precisely the same community commitment. Trinitas has distinguished itself in a manner in which it takes care of its community, particularly the urban community and Elizabeth and, of course, the vulnerable community. That commitment drove us together.
I think there also is the feeling that, by having Trinitas as part of the family, it fits an adjacency with Newark Beth and Rahway (medical centers). So, we have those two other institutions. And, when you put Trinitas between them as it is located, you get the ability to really expand programs and leverage off of that.
And, so, the fit geographically was perfect, and the mission fit was perfect.
ROI: Trinitas has been seeking a Level II Trauma designation for years — only to be denied by the state. Will this help the cause?
Gary Horan: I wish it was that easy. The answer to that is, ‘No.’
We’re going through the administrative law judge appeal process now. And, as you know, with COVID, they’re working with a skeleton crew. So, it’s really going at a snail’s pace. Once the administrative law judge rules, and, if it’s a negative ruling and it goes through the Department of Health and they continue to make it a negative ruling, then we will go the appellate route.
But we’re confident that I think we’ve made a very strong case. And if the reasonable man theory holds up, I think we should get approved. But I haven’t seen a reasonable man or woman in a long time.
ROI: Last question. Hospitals have never been busier. All jokes aside, how did you find time to complete this deal during a pandemic?
BO: Amidst the pandemic, our organization has been aggressive in pursuing transactions that we think are consistent with our strategy. I think we have the capacity to do that. We have the people and the time and the resources. And, so, rather than just pull our horns in and wait for the pandemic to pass, we’re out doing I think the things that will ensure our strength going forward.
But, if the pandemic gets to the point, God forbid, that it has to stop us from doing everything else, then that’s of course what will prevail. But I’m confident that we can not only treat the demand that COVID places on us, but continue to plan for the future, which is what this is about. I am confident we can do both things.