|Reprinted from the May 13, 1996 issue of
Copyright, Crain Communications Inc., 740 Rush, Chicago, IL 60611 All rights
|By David Burda
|Hospital attracts parade of bidders
Maybe Jackie O. had her tonsils taken out in Cookeville.
That’s how high the initial offers were for Cookeville (Tenn.) General
Hospital. Despite community opposition, the city-owned facility is up for
sale or lease to the highest bidder.
And the offers likely will go higher following the city’s surprise decision
to reject all the bids and ask the suitors to resubmit their offers.
Like the recent multimillion-dollar auction of memorabilia owned by the
Kennedy family of Massachusetts, the value of everyday things like a set of
golf clubs or a 157-bed community hospital is the eye of the beholder.
And the bidders that want Cookeville General were willing to go as high as
$100 million in cash for a hospital that generated just $37 million in total
net revenues in 1994, according to the latest available data from the
Tennessee health department. That year, the hospital posted a 5.6% profit
margin with about $2.1 million in net earnings.
The value of the hospital has little to do with its actual value in terms of
assets and revenues, said Josh Nemzoff, a Nashville, Tenn.-based consultant
who’s been retained by the city of Cookeville to handle the bidding process.
He said the high bids are being driven by intangible elements that make the
hospital worth far more than its value on paper. Those intangible elements
- Large not-for-profit hospital systems with tertiary hubs in larger
Tennessee cities that are looking for patient referrals.
- For-profit chains that are looking to add to their regional networks
for contracting purposes.
- Those that see an untapped potential in Cookeville General and want to
expand the facility and enjoy the subsequent surge in revenues.
In addition to being profitable, the hospital is strategically located
midway between Nashville and Knoxville along Interstate 40, which connects
central Tennessee with the eastern half of the state.
Four months after the Cookeville City Council voted 3-2 to solicit bids for
the sale of the hospital, the sealed offers recently were opened, revealing
how those intangibles affected the value of the hospital. The city received
12 bids, ranging from $39 million to $100 million (See chart).
Community Health Systems, a Brentwood, Tenn.-based for-profit chain, was the
highest bidder. Nashville, Tenn.-based Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., the
nation’s largest for-profit chain, came in fourth, with a bid of $68.5
The city also received two noncash offers: one a contract management deal
and the other an affiliation arrangement.
Eight of the 12 bidders were for-profit companies. Four bidders were
not-for-profit corporations or companies owned by not-for-profits.
But, based on Nemzoff’s recommendation, the city council on May 2 voted 3-2
to reject all the offers and ask the 12 bidders to resubmit proposals.
Nemzoff said the rebidding process likely will result in higher offers for
Nemzoff said his recommendation to rebid wasn’t financially motivated. He
said his compensation arrangement with the city is based on a fixed-fee
deal, not on a percentage of the final sales price. He said he gets paid the
same amount whether the city sells, leases or keeps the hospital.
Rather, the decision to reopen the bidding process was caused by the wide
variations in the initial offers. Nemzoff said the bids were all across the
board and were difficult to compare.
Melahn Finely, a hospital spokeswoman, said the city sent a revised
request-for-proposal to the 12 bidders on May 2. Any new bids are due by May
12, and they’ll be opened at a May 16 meeting of the City Council, she said.
Tyree Wilburn, Community Health’s senior vice president and chief
development officer, said the company is “certainly disappointed” with the
city’s decision to reopen the bids. He said Community Health will submit
another bid but didn’t know if it would exceed the company’s original $100
million offer because the second RFP contains different sale or lease
Nemzoff said the new RFP asks for sales or lease proposals only. Therefore,
some of the 12 with contract management or affiliation offers likely will
drop out of the competition, he said.
Meanwhile, on a parallel track, community residents who oppose a sale or
lease of the hospital to an outside company still are working to thwart a
The city solicited bids for the hospital despite opposition from the
hospital’s administration and board. That opposition peaked in March, when
residents in a local referendum overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the
city charter requiring a voter approval of a sale (March 18, p. 8). The
residents had pursued and obtained special state legislation authorizing the
However, the hospital referendum didn’t contemplate a lease arrangement,
which the city subsequently decided was an option. The city’s pursuit of a
lease has sent those opposed to a transfer of local control of the hospital
back to the state Legislature for help.
Lawmakers passed a bill that would authorize a second referendum, this one
giving residents the right to vote on a lease deal for the hospital. At
deadline, the bill was awaiting Gov. Don Sundquist’s signature.
Assuming the governor signs the bill, a referendum on a lease likely won’t
take place until the fall, which may come too late to block the city from
leasing Cookeville General to an outside company.