By John Kanelis
An old relationship is becoming new again in the world of medical services for the residents of the High Plains region.
The Harrington Regional Medical Center is set to merge with the Amarillo Area Foundation, signaling a return to a partnership that operated until 1984, when HRMC became an independent entity dedicated to the development of a massive medical campus on the western edge of Amarillo.
HRMC came into being more than 30 years ago after the AAF "recognized that a separate organization was necessary to concentrate on the aggressive growth and development of the massive land holdings that began with 300 acres donated by Amarillo pioneer and philanthropist Caroline Bush Emeny," according to a press release announcing the merger. The land "was once part of the Frying Pan Ranch," the release said.
"This is a 'mission accomplished' kind of thing," according to Marvin Franz, executive director and chief executive officer of HRMC.
The merger will take effect at the end of the year, Franz said, and he's preparing to return to the banking world from which he came when he took over three years ago as CEO at HRMC. Franz said a local bank has offered him an executive position, which he will assume as soon as the merger takes effect.
HRMC's duties will be overseen by a newly formed entity governed by a board of directors within the Amarillo Area Foundation, comprising members of the HRMC and AAF boards of directors, according to a press release issues by HRMC.
HRMC comprises 430 acres and "has an alliance of 35 member/resident institutions," according to the statement announcing the merger, "making it one of the largest medical campuses devoted to the healing arts in the United States. It currently serves more than 1 million residents over a five-state region and it generates more than $2 billion in business activity (annually) in the Amarillo area."
Amarillo Area Foundation President/CEO Clay Stribling said in a statement that AAF is "extremely excited to be working with HRMC to improve the quality, availability and effectiveness of health care in our region. The new entity will provide an efficient platform for coordination of health care services, and is a testament to AAF and HRMC to the needs of area residents."
The AAF was founded in the 1950s and then it established the medical center operating within the area foundation, Franz said. "The foundation handled it in-house until 1984, when it spun off and created HRMC," he added.
"The evolution has resulted in it moving back to the area foundation," he said.
HRMC's mission all along, Franz said, had been to "foster development of the medical center campus and to attract practices that enhanced medical services being offered."
The campus is bordered by Amarillo Boulevard, Coulter Street and Ninth Avenue. Included among the businesses belonging to HRCM is an assortment of specialty clinics and "ancillary businesses," such as the Ronald McDonald House and the League House, which provide care for the families of patients being treated in Amarillo.
Franz noted that the region's two acute care hospitals – Baptist St. Anthony's and Northwest Texas – once were more involved within HRMC's sphere when they were non-profit organizations; NWTH once was owned by the Amarillo Hospital District and funded through property taxes and BSA once was known as High Plains Baptist Hospital and was operated under the auspices of a religious organization.
Then in the late 1990s, Universal Health Services purchased NWTH after a hospital district-wide referendum and High Plains merged with St. Anthony's Hospital – which used to operate on Amarillo Boulevard and Polk Street – and eventually it was purchased by a for-profit company.
"Those two facilities have moved into a different direction," Franz said, "and they've become more autonomous."
HRMC has used its location and the availability of land within its campus as inducements to lure medical operations to Amarillo, Franz said. "We've provided property at low cost, below market rates" for non-profit organizations, he said. For-profit firms, he added, "have had to pay for property at market prices."
Businesses that operate as non-profits, he said, "had to fit certain deed restrictions and the property must be used for health care or for ancillary services."
Franz said HRMC "can't give tax breaks. We aren't an EDC (economic development corporation). So we have to rely on proximity and selling the location of the property to possible tenants."
The merger is going to be a huge plus for the further development of the city's medical complex, Franz predicted. The AAF, he said, "will provide more grant opportunities." The foundation, he said, has staff members who are experienced at writing grant requests.
HRMC, he added, has just three employees – two full-timers and a part-time assistant; the other full-time staffer, administrative assistant Cheryl Struder, also is moving on to another job when HRMC's merger with AAF becomes final.
HRMC was able to "fulfill what the Amarillo Area Foundation originally intended," Franz said. "We got to where the area foundation could handle it again."
"It just makes sense," Franz said, "to back home."