Officials sent out nearly 40 requests for proposals in February. They narrowed the 15 responses they got down to seven, and last week asked those organizations to answer additional questions and provide financial projections.

The number of responses indicate the hospitals and their markets remain strong, though RHD is operating in the red and Trinity just got back into the black after recent financial struggles, said Dick Calvert, vice president of the hospital authority's board.

"We were frankly kind of overwhelmed," Mr. Calvert said. "We were worried we might not get more than one or two. We were hoping we'd get a handful, but we got more than a handful. So that shows [the hospitals] are very viable."

"They have been profitable in the past," Mr. Heath said. "I think every hospital in the Dallas area is being challenged right now because of the number of uninsured in the market areas and the number of people who come to the emergency rooms and don't have insurance."

Tenet Healthcare Systems has leased and operated the two hospitals for 25 years. But that lease expires in August 2007. Tenet is one of the groups that have submitted a proposal. But under the existing lease, Tenet must be given one year's notice if it is not to continue managing the hospital. That means the hospital authority must pick a proposal by the end of August.

"One of the issues is health care has changed so dramatically, and it's changing dramatically daily," said Mr. Calvert, a 17-year veteran of the hospital authority's board.

"Managed care didn't even exist 25 years ago, and now that's what's driving the train. One of the real frustrations both we and Tenet have had with the current operating agreement is ... we are only landlords. We have zero say over what happens in the hospitals. There have been many things we've been frustrated with and felt we had nothing we could do about it" because of the terms of the lease.

In addition to Tenet, proposals are still under consideration from HCA, Texas Health Resources, Parkland Health and Hospital System, Quorum Health Resources, Hospital Partners of America, and IASIS Healthcare Corp.

Among the hospitals HCA operates are Denton Regional Medical Center, Las Colinas Medical Center in Irving, and Medical Center hospitals of Arlington, Lewisville, McKinney, Plano and Dallas.

Texas Health Resources, formed in 1997 with the merger of the Harris Methodist Health System, Presbyterian Healthcare System and Arlington Memorial Hospital Foundation Inc., operates 13 North Texas hospitals.

Hospital Partners of America develops and operates hospitals in partnership with physicians, who share ownership. It operates four hospitals, in Austin, Houston, and Redding, Calif.

Metrocrest Hospital Authority officials said they can't talk about the proposals, but noted that Parkland Health and Hospital System has proposed to take over only RHD Memorial in Farmers Branch. The Dallas County hospital system can't operate Trinity because it's in Denton County.

The hospital authority is committed to keeping both hospitals open as full-service providers, officials said, though some of the proposals recommend closing RHD.

"One or more of the people we interviewed envision closing RHD, others to convert it into a specialty hospital ... which could involve closing the emergency room," he said. "But we're committed to not doing that."

"We have a bunch of different options in front of us," Mr. Calvert said. "The easiest thing for us is to do another lease; then we don't have to do anything except collect money. But we want to do the best thing for the community, that we give them the best service we possibly can."

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