Saint Mary's, MHP, other hospitals in regional plan

February 5, 2010
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Saint Mary's Health Care and four other Trinity Health hospitals in West Michigan are joining together into a regional system in another example of the statewide trend toward hospital consolidation.

Business development and marketing executives are in place to work on tying together Saint Mary's with Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, Battle Creek Health Care System, Mercy Hospital in Cadillac and Mercy Hospital in Grayling, said Phil McCorkle, CEO of Saint Mary's and the new system's regional director. They will continue to be owned by Trinity Health.

"Our primary goal is to move from five groups of hospital-based generalists to a single team of regionally focused specialists that support the hospitals in a standardized fashion," said Jeff Couzens, regional marketing and communications director for Trinity Health in West Michigan.

No job losses are expected, he said.

A new identity for the regional system is expected later this year, McCorkle told the Business Journal. Couzens said a name for the system hasn't been chosen yet but probably will be revealed this summer.

McCorkle said the process began in 2006, when Trinity Health CEO Joseph Swedish reorganized management of Michigan hospitals into western and eastern regions. At that time, McCorkle took on the role of regional market executive, and the first strategic plan was put in place in 2007.

The new strategic plan, developed last summer, will tighten the connections between the hospitals. McCorkle said the regional system will leverage electronic medical records and computer networking to allow downstate specialists to manage consultations for patients at the other hospitals.

For about a decade, financial operations for Saint Mary's, MHP and BCHS have been handled jointly at the Shared Financial Services Center in the former Kentwood Mall on 44th Street SE. With the creation of the regional system, financial operations for the other two hospitals will move there, McCorkle said. Services provided include payroll processing, accounts management, billing and collections.

McCorkle said that, in addition to Couzens and several Saint Mary's executives, Mary Boyd of MHP devotes a significant portion of her time to regional business development. He said he devotes 30 percent of his time to developing the regional system.

In addition to backroom efficiencies, McCorkle said the system approach would encompass other areas, such as:

*A single phone number to refer outstate patients to the concentration of specialists in Grand Rapids and Muskegon.

"Why not be able to develop one call number for a referral center that everybody could call? We have a helicopter landing pad. We have a variety of different hospital helicopters that are bringing patients to us," McCorkle said.

For example, having radiologists available at night is often difficult for small hospitals with emergency rooms, and some of them have turned to overseas companies for that service, he added. But imaging files can be sent to Grand Rapids as easily as to India, he added.

"Getting that is really one of the things that we want to be able to do. And we may even expand that beyond our five hospitals in West Michigan. We might want to do that throughout the entire Trinity system within Michigan."

*Access to specialists. "We can provide specialty clinics located in some of these other hospitals. Or we could probably provide some of our physicians to go up and provide services," he said.

McCorkle said the goal is to help keep patients, especially in Battle Creek, Cadillac and Grayling, within Trinity Health by providing access to specialists they currently seek elsewhere.

*Other areas of regional cooperation: physician recruitment; closer physician alignment with hospitals as they prepare for changes in reimbursement; improvements in patient safety and clinical quality.

Couzens, who arrived from Trinity Health's headquarters in August, said more regional functions are a "natural evolution" from the success of combining financial services.

"By working in more coordinated fashion across the region, we can be more effective. We look at strategic planning and marketing as really being key to growth."

McCorkle said hospitals will retain their local identities in addition to being positioned as members of the regional system. "We need to make sure the communities that we're in identify us as being a regional system, that we are connected, so this brand identity is something that we'll be promoting," he said.

Also still undecided is the relationship between the Cadillac and Grayling hospitals and Munson Healthcare in Traverse City.  Owned by Trinity Health, the two hospitals since the 1990s have had contracts with Munson for management. However, Munson and Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health announced last month that they agreed to enter a due diligence phase for "long-term integration."

"We are just now going to start having that conversation about just what that means," Couzens said. "It's no secret that Spectrum and Munson have signed a letter of intent and are going through due diligence. We always still have referral relationships up in Munson. From a marketing and branding perspective, that is something we are going to address in the near future."

Trinity Health, based in the Detroit suburb of Novi, is the fourth-largest Catholic health system in the U.S. It owns 32 hospitals and manages 12, has 29 long-term care facilities, hundreds of outpatient facilities, clinics, home health agencies, hospice programs and senior housing communities in seven states. It has annual revenues of $7 billion and the full-time equivalent of 45,000 employees.

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