Health Care, Human Resources, and Lakeshore

Health systems form strategic affiliation

March 30, 2016
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North Ottawa and Mecosta County hospitals join Michigan Health Connect
North Ottawa Community Hospital is an 81 bed acute-care hospital in Grand Haven. Photo via

A pair of West Michigan health systems have signed a strategic affiliation agreement, which they said will strengthen health care and patient services along the lakeshore and throughout the region.

The boards of Mercy Health and North Ottawa Community Health System, or NOCHS, approved on Monday the agreement between the two organizations.

The agreement increases the collaboration that has previously existed between the two organizations.

Under the agreement, Mercy Health, which includes hospitals, doctors and health care providers located in West Michigan, and NOCHS, including its 81 bed acute-care hospital in Grand Haven, will remain independent organizations with independent boards, while allowing the two organizations to share population health management information and needs assessments, recruit physicians and work together to improve primary care and specialty services.

NOCHS said it has identified gaps in service it will work to close with the help of Mercy Health under the new agreement.

According to an internal memo from NOCHS, those gaps include expanding access to primary care, cardiology and neuroscience specialists, strengthening outpatient surgery and emergency services, including improved access to mental health services, and maintaining modern and advanced diagnostic services, such as CT scans, MRI and lab technology.

“We wanted to be able to have a partner that could make sure specialty needs are addressed in our area and better than we are able to do, because we are really a primary care organization and some of the specialists that are needed are usually attached to the larger organizations,” explained Shelleye Yaklin, president and CEO, NOCHS.

As an example, Yaklin said North Ottawa currently does not have any cardiologists as part of its medical group, and it doesn’t expect to in the future. She said as a result, patients from Grand Haven typically travel to Muskegon to receive cardiology services. Through its agreement with Mercy Health, NOCHS expects more cardiology services will be made available locally.

“We are working to have some expanded presence in cardiology here in Grand Haven, which will be a benefit to the community, so they don’t have to always trek to Muskegon,” Yaklin said.

“Also, we will work with cardiologists on improving some of our protocols in the emergency room and on our medical floor, so it allows more of our patients who want to stay here in the hospital to be able to do that and not always have to be transferred. That type of clinical expansion will bring more benefit to the local community members.”

Mary Boyd, EVP of regional operations, Mercy Health, said Mercy Health has been working on a regional strategy between its own hospitals and physicians for some time.

"This new affiliation with NOCHS will help advance those efforts throughout West Michigan, including the lakeshore region," Boyd said.

Boyd noted another benefit Mercy Health expects to realize as a result of the agreement is in the area of population health management.

"It fosters a way for physicians who want to work in the community, whether as an independent or an employed provider, to do so," Boyd said. "Recent grads coming out of med school today have a real interest in one-on-one relationships with patients. This model is designed to really address population health management and to provide a setting where providers can know their patients."

Dr. Jack Roossien, NOCHS board chair, said NOCHS shares a mutual goal with Mercy Health.

“That goal is to ensure patients and families remain on the lakeshore for a majority of their health care needs. And now we have a way to do that, better than before,” Roossien said.

Roossien noted NOCHS’ mission has always included a variety of strategic collaborations in order to provide a level of access and service that “few communities our size can afford or sustain.”

On Monday, the Grand Haven Township board approved plans for Health Pointe, a new joint venture between Spectrum Health and Holland Hospital, which NOCHS opposes, saying it threatens the financial stability of its hospital by bringing duplicate services to Grand Haven. NOCHS leadership has also said it believes the facility will lead to more patients being sent to Grand Rapids for care.

Yaklin said the agreement with Mercy Health is not in reaction to Health Pointe. She said conversations between the two organizations about increasing collaboration have been taking place for some time.

"This has been something that Mercy and North Ottawa have been working on for a couple of years," Yaklin said.

Yaklin said NOCHS is looking forward to sharing more details about specific initiatives resulting from the affiliation agreement in the coming weeks. 

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