Ownership change won’t affect services, CEO says

By Andrew Kirk

Despite recent ownership challenges, the Tri-Cities Cancer Center is not going anywhere and there will be no noticeable difference in its operations or the care it provides to cancer patients.

That’s the message Chief Executive Officer Chuck DeGooyer is working hard to share.

It’s an important message because a lot recently has changed.

On Aug. 1, the nonprofit center’s owners went from three to one.

To best serve area patients, the cancer center needs the support of all three health care systems, so making sure the two former owners still feel the center is worthy of their patient referrals is DeGooyer’s top priority.

The two former owners are the Kennewick Public Hospital District (Trios Health) and Our Lady of Lourdes at Pasco (Lourdes Health).

Trios and Lourdes now are owned by LifePoint Health, a for-profit company based in Tennessee.

Chuck DeGooyer
Chuck DeGooyer

When the Tri-Cities Cancer Center opened 25 years ago, it was built with the intent to be an independent nonprofit clinic, DeGooyer said.

To protect its mission, the cancer center’s bylaws state its owners must be nonprofits.

Since that time when each of the three hospitals contributed about half a million dollars, none has contributed any new money, nor taken it out.

Donations from community partners and fundraising has brought in more than $20 million to keep the center running and expand its operations and services.

LifePoint Health’s “for-profit” status made it ineligible to be an owner.

After brainstorming a variety of options, LifePoint Health announced Aug. 1 it would pull out, leaving Kadlec Regional Medical Center, which is affiliated with Providence St. Joseph’s Health, as the sole owner.

The ownership change requires Kadlec to buy the remaining shares, triggering a valuation of the center, DeGooyer said. It’s a process that could take up to 180 days.

LifePoint Health was contacted for this story, but Michelle Augusty, vice president of communications, declined to comment.

LifePoint Health issued the following statement: “Trios Health and Lourdes Health are committed to continue working with the Tri-Cities Cancer Center for the benefit of cancer patients, families and the community.”

The ownership turmoil won’t affect patients, physicians or volunteers in any way, DeGooyer said.

The three hospitals always allowed the Tri-Cities Cancer Center to run independently and Providence will continue to do so, DeGooyer said.

“We’re not being absorbed by Kadlec,” he said.

It won’t even affect what services are in- or out-of-network for patients.

The center has always negotiated its own contracts with insurance companies independent of Kadlec, Trios or Lourdes, he said.

The center’s foundation has its own marketing team and they will continue to promote the foundation’s events, initiatives and programs as always, he added.

Likewise, volunteers and financial support still are needed.

What’s changed is the connection with two of the three hospital communities.

“When you lose the connection, at least that ownership connection, that’s pretty significant,” DeGooyer said. “Will there still be that connection for how patients are referred from those two entities we’ve enjoyed for 25 years?”

Referrals come from relationships, he said. Right now patients come from all over the region. Up to 25 percent of patients do not live in the Tri-Cities.

Now that DeGooyer won’t be working as closely as he worked with the former top executives at Lourdes and Trios, he said he’ll need to strengthen business relationships with local managers.

The Tri-Cities Cancer Center was created, and still operates today, to provide comprehensive care close to home, DeGooyer said.

The cancer center saves patients travel and lodging expenses, not to mention stress. Even driving around town for blood tests, pharmacy prescriptions, screening tests and treatment clinics can be a strain, he said.

The center aims to be a “one-stop” comprehensive facility, making treatment as comfortable as possible. While physicians can refer patients to any number of providers, DeGooyer said he believes the cancer center is the best choice, regardless of what health network they belong to.

As part of its effort to provide the best care, the center achieved the APEX Accreditation of Excellence for ASTR—a newly-created “gold standard” accreditation for cancer-treatment centers—in 2016.

DeGooyer said his team is actively working to renew the accreditation in 2020.

The breast cancer program is also accredited and the cancer center’s physicians are board certified. These are important qualifications to assure referring physicians their patients will receive state-of-the-art quality care at the center, DeGooyer said.

And as a nonprofit cancer center, the staff is also committed to providing services regardless of ability to pay. A small percentage of patients have their bills completely forgiven as a charitable write off, he said. It costs the center a lot of money, but not treating people who lack the ability to pay is not an option, he said.

“We care for all people,” DeGooyer said.

The center’s continuing nonprofit status and independence, and now having a sole owner that is nonprofit, means the center’s profits can be invested back into the facility, its equipment and offerings. That has been key to its success for the past 25 years and it will continue, DeGooyer explained.

More good news is Kadlec has announced plans to upgrade the pharmacy it leases space for within the cancer center.

The $935,588 remodel will update hoods for mixing the chemicals used in chemotherapy.

Kadlec’s hematology and oncology clinic has leased space and provided its own pharmacy services to patients since 1999, DeGooyer said. The center also leases space to Tri-Cities Laboratory so patients can get blood tests in the same location as their treatment.

Bouten Construction of Richland is the general contractor for the pharmacy remodel.

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