A “wedding” was held Tuesday on the lawn of Hardin Memorial Hospital, now Baptist Health Hardin, as the hospital officially joined the Baptist Health system.

During a ceremony in which the sale of Hardin Memorial Health to Baptist Health was finalized, Judge-Executive Harry Berry compared Hardin Memorial to a young adult.

“Like parents, we nurtured Hardin Memorial for 66 years. Making sure it had the resources it needed to be able to prosper,” he said, noting young adults often end up getting married and continue to prosper and grow because there are then two people.

“They are partners working together. That is a lot of what has happened to Hardin Memorial the last five years. We realized that it was growing and it was going to leave home soon and needed a partner,” Berry said. “Dealing with those facts of life, we started a process.”

Four years ago, he said county government acting as the HMH trustees allowed Hardin Mem­or­ial to start “dating.”

“We looked for suitors. They came and checked us out and we checked them out,” Berry said.

Three years ago, Hardin Memorial started “going steady” with the signing a letter of intent with Baptist Health. Two years ago, in May 2018, they got “engaged” with the asset purchase agreement.

Then, in referring to the lawsuit filed against the sale, Berry said a distant relative tried to derail the process.

“But we survived that. Earlier this year, we were able to set the wedding date finally,” he said. “That brings us to today standing here at the altar.”

Berry called Tuesday a “historic day in the life of our community.”

Hardin Memorial Hospital opened on Valentine’s Day in 1954. The community came together to create the hospital so health care would be available at home.

“That’s still the same reason this institution is so important to us today is because we all want as much as our health care that we can get right here at home,” Berry said.

Baptist Health CEO Gerard Colman said the purchase will “forever tie Baptist Health to the community.”

“While the name is changing, some things will never change. You can keep on relying and expect the compassionate, high quality care you’ve been receiving for decades here at Hardin Memorial Hospital,” Colman said.

With that, he said some things will be different.

“You’re going to see construction crews as we build new facilities and make upgrades to existing facilities. ... In the next five years, Baptist Health Systems will be investing more than $900 million in capital projects across the Commonwealth and in southern Indiana. Many of those projects will be right here in Hardin County and the 10-county surrounding area,” Colman said.

“Together Baptist Health Hardin and the Baptist Health system have a bright future,” he added.

Under the terms of the agreement, Baptist Health was to acquire all assets of Hardin Memorial Health and, in return, commit $235 million over 10 years to HMH in operating and capital investments.

Specific terms call for Bap­tist Health to invest a minimum of $150 million in the first five years to build new facilities, recruit more physicians, upgrade information technology and equipment, and strengthen HMH’s position and reputation as a regional health care center. After the first five-year period, Baptist Health will commit an additional $85 million in capital investments to HMH.

In all, the agreement spells out $361.4 million in payments and investments.

Hardin County Magistrate Garry King said when talks began several years ago, he wanted the hospital to remain independent.

“As time went along in the process, I began to realize that independent hospitals were a thing of the past. Particularly one as fast growing as ours. We couldn’t continue to be a growing hospital in a growing community without a partner,” King said. “It took some time for me to get to that point, believe me. I had to do some real soul searching and at the same time listen to constituents.”

King said many of his constituents did not favor the sale, but he’s tried to help them realize that in order to continue to be successful, a partner was needed.

“In all honestly, I think we made the very best decision that we could have made under the circumstances we had. I think that great things are going to continue to happen for Hardin Memorial Health and for Baptist Health Hardin,” King said. “ ... We are so very fortunate to have found this partner, and I just think health care in Hardin County and surrounding counties is going to be so much better in the months and years to come.”

Mary Alford can be reached at 270-505-1741 or malford@thenewsenterprise.com.

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