In a health care climate where the merger and acquisition of independent hospitals is a continuing trend, Community Medical Center CEO Steve Carlson says his hospital has no plan to merge or sell to another entity, including Providence Health and Services, which owns St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula.
Instead, Community will continue to provide the best patient service by forming “strategic partnerships” with other hospitals that allow it to focus on areas of expertise without unnecessary duplication of services, Carlson said.
Rumors of a merger or buyout of Community Medical Center surfaced last week but are unfounded, Carlson said.
Here’s what did happen, he said: After more than two years of discussion, St. Pat’s took “off the table” a proposal to form an oncology partnership between Missoula’s two hospitals.
A partnership would have helped avoid unnecessary duplication of services while allowing each hospital to focus on specialties and research, together providing full oncology services for Missoula residents, Carlson said.
Jeff Fee, CEO of Providence Health and Services of Western Montana, was unavailable for comment Friday.
Stacy Rogge, St. Pat’s spokeswoman, said Fee is “bound by a confidentiality agreement preventing any representative of the Providence Health and Services of Western Montana region to discuss or respond to questions” about mergers, acquisitions or affiliations.
Rogge also would not respond to specific questions for this story.
Nationwide, nonprofit hospital consolidation has been a trend for several years.
A January Becker’s Hospital Review article cited a Fitch Rating report showing that national health care reform has spurred hospital consolidations.
Health care reform and changing reimbursement methodologies are dramatically altering the landscape for U.S. nonprofit hospitals, driving the highest consolidation activity since 2000 and increasing the focus on the operating environment and efficiencies, the Fitch Ratings report said.
A March 2012 Moody’s Investors Service report noted the rise in nonprofit hospital consolidation as well, attributing it to issues like reimbursement challenges, spiraling health care costs and a slow economic recovery.
“Deep and impactful payment changes that are undoubtedly coming with federal health care reform is another,” the Moody’s report stated.
In an interview with the Missoulian, Carlson stressed that Community’s focus is not on consolidation.
“What we’re interested in is partnerships,” he said.
While health care reform has prompted some organizations to move toward using alternative coordinated care models, such as affordable care organizations or popular management models, Carlson sees partnerships as the key to providing the best patient services.
“It’s false to believe an organization can or should be all things to all people,” Carlson said. “In health care, like all businesses, when the best collaboration is combined it offers the best services to the community. We remain committed to collaborating when it can be achieved.”
Carlson wouldn’t speculate on rumblings that St. Patrick Hospital intends to begin offering obstetrics and gynecology services. Currently, only Community Medical Center provides those services.
Missoula has been very well served, Carlson said, by Community’s focus on obstetrics and St. Pat’s focus on cardiology and open heart services.
It would be a “very unfortunate day” if St. Pat’s decided to upset that balance, he said.
“Community very much values the relationship (with St. Pat’s) in the area of obstetrics and open heart services. I think the community will ultimately pay the price if that focus is compromised,” he said.
Carlson pointed to the August merger of St. Pat’s and Community’s air ambulance services as an “important partnership” that helps cut costs for both hospitals while maintaining an important service.
Regional partnerships, like the one Community has with the Seattle Children’s Hospital, helps Community to provide expertise in particular fields without overextending itself, he said.
“We can have a backup to our pediatric surgeon without having to employ” multiple surgeons in Missoula, Carlson said. “The savings ultimately can be passed on to the patients.”
While Carlson is disappointed discussions with St. Pat’s for an oncology partnership have disbanded, he said Community will move forward to provide the full array of oncology services for its patients.
Community looks forward to exploring other partnerships with St. Pat’s in the future, Carlson said.