There are no current plans for the University of Alabama System to purchase or take over Tuscaloosa's DCH Health System, Chancellor Finis St. John said during a Wednesday afternoon meeting.

The chancellor's comments came during a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama's Public Affairs Council led by DCH's new CEO Katrina Keefer.

The meeting drew dozens of the most influential people in West Alabama, including leadership from three local governments, the DCH System, the University of Alabama System and a large number of area businesses.

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Local leaders have publicly called for DCH to merge with the UA System several times this year, and because Keefer spent almost two decades within the UAB Health System, some in West Alabama have assumed she was hired here to facilitate that.

Keefer and St. John both shut that idea down Wednesday, although neither explicitly ruled it out as a possibility for the future.

"One of our most important missions is to improve the lives and the health of the people of the state of Alabama and health care is part of that," St. John said. "What UAB has done, what our System has done is work with hospitals around the state, but only when we're invited."

"I've heard some rumors and I'd like to dispel those rumors while I'm here," he continued. "There's not a takeover of DCH planned or a takeover of any other hospital in the state. There's no deal inked to buy or force anything -- we're here to help if this community, the DCH board and the leadership here in Tuscaloosa think we can help."

During a long presentation on the state of the DCH System, some of which will be broken down in later reporting on the Thread, Keefer said its hospitals have plenty of housekeeping to do before seeking suitors.

"We all agree that we have a lot of work to do inside the walls of the System to improve the care that we're providing, to stabilize our workforce and to repair and rebuild relationships with our own medical staff," Keefer said. "A transaction and the execution of any kind of transaction would not be successful if we can't do those things well, so we're working on that on the inside while we're externally working to figure out how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together successfully."

Overall, though, Keefer and the leaders gathered downtown Wednesday shared an almost palpable optimism about the days ahead for DCH and its caregivers -- more on that soon.

For more exclusive coverage of the DCH Health System and other critical issues in West Alabama, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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