GMH makes affiliation decision

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After narrowing the field down from 18 over nine months, the Strategic Partnerships Task Force could not come to a consensus about which of two potential partners to recommend to the GMH board. Following a thorough discussion, the board voted 3-2 in favor of pursuing a partnership with Mercy Health Network. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

Last week, after nine months of research and discussion, the Strategic Partnerships Task Force presented its recommendation to the Guttenberg Municipal Hospital board and city council on June 29. About 20 additional hospital staff and community members waited anxiously for the task force to begin their presentation. 

“Today’s purpose is to share a high-level view of the task force’s journey regarding who to pursue a strategic partnership with,” introduced task force chair and hospital board vice chair Bill Allyn. The task force gathered data and hired Accord Limited to personally interview potential partners as well as physicians, council members and other stakeholders. Concerns about potential partnerships included loss of local control, identity, IPERS, workforce, physicians, diminishment of services in Guttenberg and redirection of patients out of town.

Allyn explained that the task force narrowed the pool down from 18 potential partners to seven and then to three, taking three extra months beyond the six they initially planned. “A big part of it was cultural compatibility, based on which organizations we felt would be best suited to work with Guttenberg.” For-profits, non-profit/for-profit hybrids, insurance companies, clinical affiliations and consortia were eliminated first. Telephone interviews were then conducted with seven potential partners. 

On Jan. 24, the hospital board and task force agreed to invite potential partners for on-site visits – Mercy Health Network (MHN), UnityPoint Health (UPH), and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC). 

The task force was looking for help growing GMH’s services, replacing or recouping lost revenue, continued access to insurance contracts, improved access to financing, and cost savings through shared services, efficiencies and economies of scale.  On the side of practice support, the task force desired improved ability to recruit primary care physicians, enhanced access to specialists, ability to transfer patients with ease, a physician practice model, and other clinical practice support. 

To succeed in the changing healthcare environment, the task force considered potential partners with expertise in using data to improve care, with a strategy and readiness for population health, adding services to create a continuum of care, IT compatibility and quality measurement and improvement expertise. Cultural compatibility was a final area of concern, with high performance and high quality focus, a culture of teamwork and innovation, a shared philosophy of how care should be delivered in rural communities, and a compatible governance model. 

Both UPH and MHN recommended starting with management services agreements to ease into partnership, and both proposals would allow physicians to choose whether to stay employed by GMH and therefore remain eligible for IPERS. Task force members Allyn, Smith, Russ Loven, Karen Merrick, and Kim Gau could not reach consensus about which proposal to recommend to the board and thus engaged GMH board members in discussion about how to move forward. 

The discussion went late into the night before ending in a split vote 3-2 in favor of drafting a letter of intent to MHN.

“The big difference is the support for the rural hospital,” said Merrick. Mercy Health Network has had a rural division at its corporate level for some time. “From the beginning, they have had that rural division at the corporate level, so we would have the ability to work with other hospitals within that network to share resources and solve problems jointly,” she explained. UPH is currently working to form a similar division that is expected to be ready in two years. 

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