By Heather Mullinix
A covenant is a promise, and as Cumberland Medical Center becomes the ninth community hospital to join the Covenant Health System, CEO Tony Spezia extended the health care system's promise of quality and excellence to the leaders of Cumberland County at a celebration luncheon.
"Our mission as a community health system is dedicated to improving the quality of life and health in our communities," Spezia said. "Our shared visions for the two are a natural fit."
Covenant Health was formed in 1996 by the consolidation of Fort Sanders Health System in Knoxville and MMC HealthCare System in Oak Ridge. In the past several years, five more hospitals have joined the system which also includes a number of ancillary organizations, services and physicians' offices, including Thompson Cancer survival Center, Peninsula, Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center and more.
"For Cumberland Medical Center, this is a significant transition," Spezia said. "After considerable thought about the future and navigating the steps to complete the merger, Cumberland is now moving from being stand-alone hospital to being an important member of a comprehensive health system."
For Covenant Health, the merger provides new opportunities to work with the medical practitioners in the community and serve patients on the Cumberland Plateau.
Covenant Chairman of the Board Larry Mouldin also welcomed CMC and it's staff to the Covenant Health.
"We have a covenant to our communities," Mouldin said. "That's 'Performing as Promised.'"
He noted the board of the health system drafted a document committing the volunteer board and the entire health system to living up to the highest standards of excellence, their "Quality Promise."
That quality promise includes always providing the highest quality care to the community, continuing to learn and preparing for coming changes.
"Very few community endeavors are as important to make sure high-quality health care is available," Mouldin said. "We take pride and commitment to make sure we work together to deliver on that promise."
Ed Anderson, CEO of CMC, said, "It is a new day for Cumberland Medical Center, a new start for us. Probably one of the words that is foremost on our minds is change. We're joining this and partnering with someone else. What are the changes going to be?"
Spezia, Mauldin and Anderson all stressed the careful nature of the merger process, with Spezia adding the new relationship was a "forever relationship. We're all in this together. With that in mind, as problems occur, as challenges evolve, please understand that we are going to go through these together," he said.
Anderson noted that Covenant was not the only suitor the hospital had as it looked for a strategic partner to help weather coming changes in the economy and health care industry; however, those other companies were for-profit companies.
Anderson said, "We wanted to stay with a non-profit."
Covenant is also a not-for-profit health care system, and Anderson noted that was what the CMC board of directors were most comfortable with the not-for-profit model as it was the only model the hospital had ever used.
"Dr. May's [Craveth Wharton, CMC founder] mission was to make sure the people of this area had access to quality care," Anderson said. "We will now have more options to deliver quality care with the same commitment we have had in the past. Our elite team just got bigger and better."
Being a not-for-profit entity means the organization is able to reinvest in the community served.
Spezia said, "We need to run our business well so that we can serve our communities better. We can have a bigger tent to serve those who are unable to pay for services, provide services that don't for themselves. We are committed to that."
Covenant reinvests revenues to improve patient care. Since 2000, the health system has invested more than $1 billion in facilities, technologies, programs and services.
As a comprehensive health system, Anderson noted Covenant had access to specialties not available through CMC before.
"It's good to know we have a partner, one that is our group, that can handle the cases we can't," Anderson said, adding, "I assure you, the things we can do, we do as well as anybody I know of."
Another advantage of the health system is the ability to share best practices across the system.
"There are answers and solutions we can identify together that will make our organization stronger and provide better quality," Anderson said.
Anderson is continuing in his role as CEO at CMC as the transition continues. However, he introduced Jeremy Biggs, who is chief administrative officer for CMC, who will assume leadership at the hospital when Anderson chooses to step down and join the Covenant Health board of directors.