WILLMAR—Rice Memorial Hospital and Affiliated Community Medical Centers formally agreed to a letter of intent Wednesday night to join forces with CentraCare Health of St. Cloud.
It’s the first step toward forming a new corporation to collaboratively deliver health care in Willmar and the region.
Leaders of both organizations said the move will help preserve and enhance local health care in the face of accelerating change.
“As a board we know health care is changing rapidly,” said Doug Allen, hospital board chairman. “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the future of health care and what we need to do to adapt to those changes. It’s our responsibility but we can’t do it alone.”
The timeline calls for finalizing the agreement by Dec. 31 and launching the new as yet unnamed entity early in 2018.
The letter of intent gives Rice and ACMC the go-ahead to continue talking with CentraCare and begin hammering out the details.
“We’ll need to lay out a whole process and timeline,” said Mike Schramm, Rice Hospital chief executive. “There’s plenty more work to be done.”
Officials sought Wednesday to allay concerns that the CentraCare partnership represents an ownership change, especially for the city-owned hospital.
“This is not an acquisition,” said Dr. Cindy Smith, ACMC president. “It’s not a takeover. This is creating something new, innovative and collaborative. … It’s creating a new integrated health care delivery system.”
It’s an opportunity to do more for the region—promoting wellness, managing chronic disease, reducing health disparities and holding down costs while providing quality care, she said. “We want to not just deliver health care. We want to improve the health of the people we serve.”
She and Schramm said there have been talks on and off for several years with CentraCare, exploring possibilities for working more closely together. It wasn’t until recently, though, that the discussion intensified.
The organizations share patients and demographics and have similar missions, Allen said. More important, they have shared values, he said.
“It’s a great step forward for the community and the region,” he said. “We think we’re on the right path.”
Schramm and Smith said there’s strong support within Rice and ACMC for a CentraCare partnership. The hospital board and ACMC’s shareholders voted unanimously Wednesday to proceed with the letter of intent.
The issue is expected to come up June 5 before the Willmar City Council, which has the ultimate say over the city-owned hospital.
The three organizations bring together substantial resources. Rice has about 1,000 employees at the hospital, a nursing home and a medical equipment company. ACMC has 110 physicians, 70 advanced-practice professionals and 1,000 employees at nine sites.
Rice and ACMC also jointly own Willmar Medical Services, which has 300 employees. Services include outpatient surgery, cancer care, orthopedics, medical imaging, diabetes education and a sleep center.
CentraCare Health, of St. Cloud, operates six hospitals, including St. Cloud Hospital. The nonprofit health system also operates 19 medical clinics, four pharmacies, six nursing homes and senior housing in six communities.
West Central Tribune by Anne Polta