Sept. 06--It will be business as usual at Menasha-based Affinity Health System if its parent company reaches a deal to join a larger Catholic nonprofit health system.
"Affinity will continue to serve the community here through our hospitals and clinics and the health insurance plan we have," said Vince Gallucci, vice president, chief administrative officer at Affinity. "Again, we will continue to focus on the community here and we will continue to do business as we're doing it today."
On Wednesday, Marian Health System, which oversees Milwaukee-based Ministry Health Care, Affinity's parent company, announced it signed a memorandum of understanding with Ascension Health Alliance of St. Louis. If a deal is reached, Marian would become part of Ascension, which operates 70 hospitals and nearly 1,000 ambulatory care facilities in 21 states.
Ministry has 15 hospitals in Wisconsin and Minnesota. St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton is among those facilities.
Ministry took over Affinity in February. Affinity, which employs nearly 4,000, also operates Network Health Plan, a health insurance company; Mercy Medical Medical Center, Oshkosh; Calumet Medical Center, Chilton; and more than two dozen other facilities around the Fox Valley.
Nick Desien, president and CEO for Ministry Health Care, said his organization wants to see the deal completed. He said day-to-day operations at Affinity and Ministry sites would continue as they always have if an agreement is reached by the end of March.
"You're never done, until it's done, until you actually work out the details associated with it," said Desien, referring to the agreement, which still is being worked out. "Our intention is to make this happen, but you want to make sure it works the way you want it to work. It would be surprising to me at the end of the day that we cannot get this done in the next four to six months."
The memorandum of understanding includes the three Marian regional health systems sponsored by the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. They are Via Christi Health in Wichita, Kan., Ministry Health Care and St. John Health System in Tulsa, Okla.
Alwyn Cassil, director of public affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan organization that conducts health policy research, said aligning with a national health care system can make financial sense for a regional provider such as Ministry, especially for affording and managing information technology.
"In the world of rapidly rising health care spending, health care reform, and Medicare increases, there is an incentive for providers to figure out how they can hold their costs down," Cassil said.
Desien said it is too soon to know what the partnership with Ascension will mean for the number of people Ministry hospitals and clinics will employ.
"None of us have in the forecast that there will be more money for health care, so yes, we will have to do anything we can on a continued limited pot of dollars," Desien said.
A benefit for Ministry facilities and operations will be economies of scale, he said.
"Size does matter, scales matter in health care today," Desien said. "We all are under enormous pressure to manage costs."
Desien said health care systems face rising costs and shrinking revenues, especially from reductions in government sources including Medicare and Medicaid.
"Ascension brings size, which gives them greater buying power in the marketplace and gives them the ability to adopt and use innovation faster than a smaller organization could," he said. "The day-to-day (operations) of Affinity and Ministry sites is not changing. The experience of our patients goes on as normal ... it's just the alignment will be with a much larger national organization."
-- Larry Avila: 920-993-1000, ext. 292, or email@example.com; on Twitter @LarryAvila. Gannett Wisconsin Media contributed to this story.
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