The No. 1 lesson from the 2021 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference: Healthcare is ‘too vital to fail’

Chronic Conditions | HENRY KOTULA

The annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference is one of the best ways to diagnose the financial condition of the healthcare industry. Every January, every key stakeholder — providers, payers, pharmaceutical companies, tech companies, medical device and supply companies as well as bankers, venture capital and private equity firms — comes together in one exam room, even when it is virtual, for their annual check-up. But as we all know, this January is unlike any other as this past year has been unlike any other year.

You would have to go back to the banking crisis of 2008 to find a similar moment from an economic perspective. At the time, we were asking, “Are banks too big to fail?” The concern behind the question was that if they did fail, the economic chaos that would follow would lead to a collapse with the consumer ultimately picking up the tab. The rest is history.

Healthcare is “Too Vital to Fail” 

2020 was historic in too many ways to count. But in a year when healthcare providers faced the worst financial crisis in the history of healthcare, the headline is that they are still standing. And what they proved is that in contrast to banks in 2008 that were seen by many as “too big to fail,” healthcare providers in 2020 proved that they were “too vital to fail.” 

One of the many unique things about the COVID-19 pandemic is we are simultaneously experiencing a health crisis, where healthcare providers are the front line in the battle, and an economic crisis, felt in a big way in healthcare given the unique role hospitals play as the largest employer in most communities. Hospitals and health systems have done the vast majority of testing, treating, monitoring, counseling, educating and vaccinating all while searching for PPE and ventilators, and conducting clinical trials. And that’s just the beginning of the list.

Stop and think about that for a minute. What would we have done without them? Thinking through that question will give you some appreciation for the critical, challenging and central role that healthcare providers have had to play over the past year.

Simply stated, healthcare providers are the heart of healthcare, both clinically (essentially 100 percent of the care) and financially (over 50 percent of the $4 trillion annual spend on U.S. healthcare). Over the last year they stepped up and they stepped in at the moment where we needed them the most. This was despite the fact that, like most businesses, they were experiencing calamitous losses with no assurances of any assistance. 

Healthcare is “Pandemic-Proof”

This was absolutely the worst-case scenario and the biggest test possible for our nation’s healthcare delivery system. Patient volume and therefore revenue dropped by over 50 percent when the panic of the pandemic was at its peak, driving over $60 billion in losses per month across hospitals and healthcare providers. At the same time, they were dramatically increasing their expenses with PPE, ventilators and additional staff. This was not heading in a good direction. While failure may not have been seen as an option, it was clearly a possibility. 

The CARES Act clearly provided a temporary lifeline, providing funding for our nation’s hospitals to weather the storm. While there are more challenging times ahead, it is now clear that most are going to make it to the other side. The system of care in our country is often criticized, but when faced with perhaps the most challenging moment in the history of healthcare, our nation’s hospitals and health systems stepped up heroically and performed miraculously. The work of our healthcare providers on the front line and those who supported them was and is one thing that we all should be exceptionally proud of and thankful for. In 2020, they proved that not only is our nation’s healthcare system too vital to fail, but also that it is “pandemic proof.” 

Listening to Front Line at the 2021 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference 

There has never been a more important year to listen to the lessons from healthcare providers. They are and were the front line of our fight against COVID-19. If there was a class given about how to deal with a pandemic at an institutional level, this conference is where those lessons were being taught.  

This year at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, CEOs, and CFOs from many of the most prestigious and most well-respected health systems in the world presented including AdventHealth, Advocate Aurora Health, Ascension, Baylor Scott & White Health, CommonSpirit Health, Henry Ford Health System, Intermountain Healthcare, Jefferson Health, Mass General Brigham, Northwell Health, OhioHealth, Prisma Health, ProMedica Health System, Providence, Spectrum Health and SSM Health.

I’ve been in healthcare for 30 years and this is my fifth year of writing up the summary of the non-profit provider track of the conference for Becker’s Healthcare to help share the wisdom of the crowd of provider organizations that share their stories. Clearly, this year was different and not because the presentations were virtual, but because they were inspirational. 

What did we learn? The good news is that they have made many changes that have the potential to move healthcare in a much better direction and to get to a better place much faster. So, this year instead of providing you a nugget from each presentation, I am going to take a shot at summarizing what they collectively have in motion to stay vital after COVID.

10 Moves Healthcare Providers are Making to Stay Vital After-COVID

As a leader in healthcare, you will never have a bigger opportunity to drive change than right now. Smart leaders are framing this as essentially “before-COVID (BC)” and “after-COVID (AC)” and using this moment as their burning platform to drive change. Credit to the team at Providence for the acronym, but every CEO talked about this concept. As the saying goes, “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Well, we’ve certainly had a crisis, so here is a list of what the top health systems are doing to ensure that they don’t waste it and that they stay vital after-COVID:

1. Take Care of Your Team and They’ll Take Care of You: In a crisis, you can either come together as a team or fall apart. Clearly there has been a significant and stunning amount of pressure on healthcare providers. Many are fearing that mental health might be our nation’s next pandemic in the near future because they are seeing it right now with their own team. Perhaps one of their biggest lessons from this crisis has been the need to address the mental, physical and spiritual health of both team members as well as providers. They have put programs in place to help and have also built a tremendous amount of trust with their team by, in many cases, not laying off and/or furloughing employees. While they have made cuts in other areas such as benefits, this collective approach proved incredibly beneficial. And the last point here that relates to thinking differently about their team is that similar to other businesses, many health systems are making remote arrangements permanent for certain administrative roles and moving to a flexible approach regarding their team and their space in the future. 

2. Focus on Health Equity, Not Just Health Care: This was perhaps the most notable and encouraging change from presentations in past years at J.P. Morgan. I have been going to the conference for over a decade, and I’ve never heard someone mention this term or outline their efforts on “health equity” — this year, nearly everyone did. In the past, they have outlined many wonderful programs on “social determinants of health,” but this year they have seen the disproportionate impact of COVID on low-income communities bringing the ongoing issue of racial disparities in access to care and outcomes to light. As the bedrock of employment in their community, this provides an opportunity to not just provide health care, but also health equity, taking an active role to help make progress on issues like hunger, homelessness, and housing. Many are making significant investments in a number of these and other areas. 

3. Take the Lead in Public Health — the Message is the Medicine: One of the greatest failings of COVID, perhaps the greatest lesson learned, is the need for clear and consistent messaging from a public health perspective. That is a role that healthcare providers can and should play. In the pandemic, it represented the greatest opportunity to save lives as the essence of public health is communication — the message is the medicine. A number of health systems stepped into this opportunity to build trust and to build their brand, which are essentially one in the same. Some organizations have created a new role — a Chief Community Health Officer — which is a good way to capture the work that is in motion relative to social determinants of health as well as health equity. Many understand the opportunity here and will take the lead relative to vaccine distribution as clear messaging to build confidence is clearly needed.

4. Make the Home and Everywhere a Venue of Care: A number of presenters stated that “COVID didn’t change our strategy, it accelerated it.” For the most part, they were referring to virtual visits, which increased dramatically now representing around 10 percent of their visits vs. 1 percent before-COVID. One presenter said, “Digital has been tested and perfected during COVID,” but that is only considering the role we see digital playing in this moment. It is clear some organizations have a very narrow tactical lens while others are looking at the opportunity much more strategically. For many, they are looking at a “care anywhere and everywhere” strategy. From a full “hospital in the home” approach to remote monitoring devices, it is clear that your home will be seen as a venue of care and an access point moving forward. The pandemic of 2020 may have sparked a new era of “post-hospital healthcare” — stay tuned.

5. Bury Your Budget and Pivot to Planning: The budget process has been a source of incredible distrust, dissatisfaction and distraction for every health system for decades. The chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic forced every organization to bury their budget last year. With that said, many of the organizations that presented are now making a permanent shift away from a “budget-based culture” where the focus is on hitting a now irrelevant target set that was set six to nine months ago to a “performance-based culture” where the focus is on making progress every day, week, month and quarter. Given that the traditional annual operating budget process has been the core of how health systems have operated, this shift to a rolling forecast and a more dynamic planning process is likely the single most substantial and permanent change in how hospitals and health systems operate due to COVID. In other words, it is arguably a much bigger headline than what’s happened with virtual visits.

6. Get Your M&A Machine in Motion: It was clear from the presentations that activity around acquisitions is going to return, perhaps significantly. These organizations have strong balance sheets and while the strong have gotten stronger during COVID, the weak have in many cases gotten weaker. Many are going to be opportunistic to acquire hospitals, but at the same time they have concluded that they can’t just be a system of care delivery. They are also focused on acquiring and investing in other types of entities as well as forming more robust partnerships to create new revenue streams. Organizations that already had diversified revenue streams in place came through this pandemic the best. Most hospitals are overly reliant on the ED and surgical volume. Trying to drive that volume in a value-based world, with the end of site of service differentials and the inpatient only list, will be an even bigger challenge in the future as new niche players enter the market. As I wrote in the headline of my summary two years ago,It’s the platform, stupid.” There are better ways to create a financial path forward that involve leveraging their assets — their platform — in new and creative ways. 

7. Hey, You, Get into the Cloud: With apologies for wrapping a Rolling Stones song into a conference summary, one of the main things touted during presentations was “the cloud” and their ability to pull clinical, operational and financial dashboards together to monitor the impact of COVID on their organization and organize their actions. Focus over the last decade has been on the clinical (implementing EHRs), but it is now shifting to “digitizing operations” with a focus on finance and operations (planning, cost accounting, ERPs, etc.) as well as advanced analytics and data science capabilities to automate, gather insight, manage and predict. It is clear that the cloud has moved from a curiosity to a necessity for health systems, making this one of the biggest areas of investment for every health system over the next decade.

8. Make Price Transparency a Key Differentiator: One of the great lessons from Amazon (and others) is that you can make a lot of money when you make something easy to buy. While many health systems are skeptical of the value of the price transparency requirements, those that have a deep understanding of both their true cost of care and margins are using this as an opportunity to prove their value and accelerate their strategy to become consumer-centric. While there is certainly a level of risk, no business has ever been unsuccessful because they made their product easier to understand and access. Because healthcare is so opaque, there is an opening for healthcare providers to build trust, which is their main asset, and volume, which is their main source of revenue, by becoming stunningly easy to do business with. This may be tough sledding for some as this isn’t something healthcare providers are known for. To understand this, spend a few minutes on Tesla’s website vs. Ford’s. The concept of making something easy, or hard, to buy will become crystal clear as fast as a battery-driven car can go from zero to 60.

9. Make Care More Affordable: This represents the biggest challenge for hospitals and health systems as they ultimately need to be on the right side of this issue or the trust that they have will disappear and they will remain very vulnerable to outside players. All are investing in advanced cost accounting systems (time-driven costing, physician costing, supply, and drug costing) to truly understand their cost and use that as a basis to price more strategically in the market. Some are dropping prices for shoppable services and using loss leader strategies to build their brand. The incoming Secretary of Health and Human Services has a strong belief regarding the accountability of health systems to be consumer centric. The health systems that understand this are working to get ahead of this issue as it is likely one of their most significant threats (or opportunities) over the next decade. This means getting all care to the right site of care, evaluating every opportunity to improve, and getting serious about eliminating the need for expensive care through building healthy communities. If you’re worried about Wal-Mart or Amazon, this is your secret weapon to keep them on the sideline.

10. Scale = Survival: One of the big lessons here is that the strong got stronger, the weak got weaker. For the strong, many have been able to “snapback” in financial performance because they were resilient. They were able to designate COVID-only facilities, while keeping others running at a higher capacity. To be clear, while most health systems are going to get to the other side and are positioned better than ever, there are many others that will continue to struggle for years to come. According to our data at Strata, we see 25 percent operating at negative margins right now and another 50 percent just above breakeven. They key to survival moving forward, for those that don’t have a captive market, will be scale. If this pandemic proved one thing relative to the future of health systems it is this — scale equals survival. 

When Will We Return to Normal?

Based on what the projections that these health systems shared, the “new normal” for health systems for the first half of 2021 will be roughly 95 percent of prior year inpatient volume with a 20 percent year-over-year drop in ED volume and a drop of 10-15 percent in observation visits. So, the pain will continue, but given the adjustments that were already made in 2020, it looks like they will be able to manage through COVID effectively. While there will be a pickup in the second half of 2021, the safe bet is that a “return to normal” pre-COVID volumes likely won’t occur until 2022. And there are some who believe that some of the volume should have never been there to begin with and we might see a permanent shift downward in ED volume as well as in some other areas.

With that said, I’ll steal a quote from Bert Zimmerli, the CFO of Intermountain Healthcare, who said, “Normal wasn’t ever nearly good enough in healthcare.” In that spirit, the goal should be to not return to normal, but rather to use this moment as an opportunity to take the positive changes driven by COVID — from technology to processes to areas of focus to a sense of responsibility — and make them permanent.

Thanking Our “Healthcare Heroes”

We’ll never see another 2020 again, hopefully. With that said, one of the silver linings of the year is everything we learned in healthcare. The most important lesson was this — in healthcare there are literally heroes everywhere. To each of them, I just want to say “thank you” for being there for us when we needed you the most. We should all be writing love letters to those on the front line who risked their lives to save others. Our nation’s healthcare system has taken a lot of criticism through the years from those on the outside, often with a blind eye to how things work in practice vs. in concept. But this year we all got to see first-hand what’s happening inside of healthcare — the heroic work of our healthcare providers and those who support them. 

They faced the worst crisis in the history of healthcare. They responded heroically and were there for our families and friends.

They proved that healthcare is too vital to fail. They proved that healthcare is pandemic-proof.

Thank you to our healthcare heroes.

Hospital buy-ups of physician practices under fresh FTC scrutiny

FTC takes tech scrutiny to heart of Silicon Valley

Dive Brief:

  • The Federal Trade Commission sent orders to six health insurance companies to obtain patient-level claims data for inpatient, outpatient, and physician services from 2015 to 2020, the agency said Thursday.
  • The FTC wants to figure out how hospitals’ acquisitions of physician practices has affected competition.  
  • The agency sent orders to some of the nation’s largest insurance companies, including UnitedHealthcare, Anthem, Aetna, Cigna, Florida Blue and Health Care Service Corporation.

Dive Insight:

This action is part of a larger effort underway at the agency to consider new questions and areas of study to help it understand the ultimate impact of mergers. The hope is that those studies will yield evidence to better equip the agency to legally challenge mergers in the future. 

Health economists cheered the news online following the FTC’s Thursday’s announcement about studying physician practice buy-ups. 

Martin Gaynor, former director of FTC’s Bureau of Economics, tweeted: “This is a big deal – a huge # of physician practices are now owned by hospitals.” Gaynor is a health economist at Carnegie Mellon.

“Important step to advance FTC’s understanding of the market and could improve their ability to win cases,” Emily Gee, a health economist at the Center for American Progress, tweeted.

In the orders, the FTC asks the insurers for data such as the total billed charges of all health providers, total deductibles, copays and coinsurance paid by the patient. It also asks for data tied to each inpatient admission and outpatient and physician episodes during the time period in question, which will likely result in a barrage of data for the agency to review.   

“The study results should aid the FTC’s enforcement mission by providing much more detailed information than is currently available about how physician practice mergers and healthcare facility mergers affect competition,” the agency said in a statement. 

This area of study expands the agency’s current work. One area already of interest within this broader retrospective merger review program is the scrutiny of labor markets. 

The agency has traditionally focused on how healthcare tie-ups affect prices. But the agency has signaled that it is increasingly interested in how mergers and acquisitions ultimately affect workers’ wages, including nurses.

One area of concern for the FTC is states’ willingness to greenlight COPAs, or certificates of public advantage (COPAs), which essentially shield mergers from federal antitrust regulators in exchange for prolonged state oversight.

In 2019, the agency sent orders to five insurance companies seeking data to study the impact of COPAs.  

Pandemic propels health systems to mull insurer acquisitions, partnerships

4 Reasons Strategic Partnerships are Important for Business - Glympse

Nearly a year after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S., some of the nation’s largest health systems made a case for the need to accelerate toward value-based arrangements and potentially acquiring or partnering with health plans to become an integrated system.

Amid new records for deaths and cases from the novel coronavirus, executives gathered virtually for J.P. Morgan’s 39th annual healthcare conference, which typically draws prominent healthcare leaders to San Francisco at the start of each year.

The pandemic has been a heavily discussed topic during the digital gathering. One theme has been health systems either acknowledging they are on the hunt for health insurer acquisitions and partnerships or advocating for such arrangements as result of the challenges.

Anu Singh, managing director and the leader of the mergers, acquisitions and partnerships practice at consultancy Kaufman Hall, said it’s a natural migration for health systems, though it does come with some risk.

“If you want to move into the realm of being a population health manager, and take greater responsibility for your patient bases, you’re going to have to be thinking about maintaining their health,” Singh said. “And that’s typically something that, at least traditionally and historically, has been driven a little bit more by the health plan.”

For Utah’s Intermountain Healthcare, the lessons of the pandemic are clear: The industry needs to move away from a system that rewards volume. Intermountain is a fully integrated system that manages both providers and an insurance unit.

“It is becoming increasingly apparent that systems that are well integrated, especially systems that understand how to take risks, have prospered in the face of the terrible burden, caring for people in the midst of the first pandemic in 100 years,” Intermountain CEO Marc Harrison said Monday.

From his vantage point, Harrison said it has been interesting to watch the consternation around telehealth visits.

“Lots of folks who are really still caught in the volume-based system are actively switching patients back from tele- or distance to in-person visits so they can maximize revenue,” he said. “I understand that. But that’s a really great example of poorly aligned incentives.”

Intermountain has managed to stay in the black as many other systems have struggled financially as a result of the pandemic driving down patient volumes. It reported net income of $167 million through the first nine months of 2020, compared with $919 million the year prior.

Another integrated system, Baylor Scott and White Health, the largest nonprofit system in Texas, said such diversification has helped buoy its finances as hospital and clinic operations bottomed out in the spring due to the virus.

Baylor Scott and White illustrated this point by showing how operating income for its clinical segment took a nosedive in the spring while operating income for its health plan remained relatively steady.

The theme of integrated health systems also seemed to be on the minds of investors. CommonSpirit Health executives were asked during their presentation if buying or creating a health plan was on their radar as the system has a sizable footprint of 140 hospitals across the country.

“I think this is a interesting question, one that of course we’ve discussed many times strategically,” CFO Daniel Morissette said, noting the system does have a number of regional plans. “At this time, we have no plan of having a national CommonSpirit branded plan.” However, Morissette said the system would consider a partnership opportunity.

On the other hand, Midwest-based Advocate Aurora Health said it is actively on the hunt for a potential insurer deal as part of its long-term strategy.

“We do believe that having health plan capability, not necessarily having our own, but partnering for health plan capability, is going to be critical to our success, and we are taking steps to do that,” CEO Jim Skogsbergh said during the virtual conference.

Kaufman Hall said in its latest report that it expects more payer-provider partnerships as a result of the pandemic. “Limitations on fee-for-service payment structures exposed by the pandemic may increase the number of payer-provider partnerships around new payment and care delivery models,” according to the report.

Singh of Kaufman Hall said it’s not surprising that some may lean more toward a partnership due to the risks of starting a new venture, especially an insurance unit that can have “catastrophic loss”. Systems with less experience of moving toward implementing value-based initiatives may be more vulnerable to such risk.

It’s why he thinks partnerships may be a good fit, at least at first. Payers and providers can work together to improve the health of certain populations and then share in the cost savings.

Bill to end antitrust exemption for health insurers awaits Trump’s signature

Health Insurance Antitrust Exemption Ending

Congress passed a bill that would end an antitrust exemption for health insurers, and the legislation is expected to be signed by President Donald Trump, according to The National Law Review

On Sept. 21, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2020, with the Senate passing the Act on Dec. 22, 2020.

The bill would repeal parts of the McCarran-Ferguson Act that exempt insurance businesses from most federal regulation, including antitrust regulation. When the bill passed the House, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who introduced the bill, said, “As long as this exemption is still on the books, health insurance companies legally can, and do, collude to drive up prices, limit competition, conspire to underpay doctors and hospitals, and overcharge consumers.”

Proponents of the McCarran-Ferguson Act have said it sets up important state authorities. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has said, “The McCarran-Ferguson Act is as relevant today as it was when it was adopted. It contains the basic delegation of authority from Congress to the states with respect to the regulation and taxation of the business of insurance. It has been affirmed as the law of the land in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and in the Dodd-Frank Act.”

The Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2020 was presented to President Trump for his signature on Jan. 1. He was expected to sign the legislation before pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol Jan. 6.

14 health systems with strong finances

14 health systems with strong finances

Hospital Mergers, Acquisitions, and Affiliations | Case Study – RMS

Here are 14 health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions, according to reports from Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings.

1. St. Louis-based Ascension has an “AA+” rating and stable outlook with Fitch and an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The system has a strong financial profile and a significant presence in several key markets, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects Ascension will continue to produce healthy operating margins. 

2. Charlotte, N.C.-based Atrium Health has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s and an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with S&P. Atrium and Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Wake Forest Baptist Health merged in October. The addition of the Winston-Salem service area and Wake Forest Baptist’s academic and research programs enhance Atrium’s position within the highly competitive North Carolina healthcare market, S&P said. 

3. Phoenix-based Banner Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch and S&P. Banner’s financial profile is strong, even taking into consideration the market volatility that occurred in the first quarter of 2020, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects the system to continue to improve operating margins and to generate cash flow sufficient to sustain strong key financial metrics. 

4. Dallas- based Baylor Scott & White Health has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The system has strong liquidity and is the largest nonprofit health system in Texas, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency expects Baylor Scott & White Health to continue to benefit from its centralized operating model, proven ability to execute complex strategies and well-developed planning abilities. 

5. Newark, Del.-based ChristianaCare Health System has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has extensive clinical depth and includes Delaware’s largest teaching hospital, Moody’s said. The system’s strong market position will help it resume near pre-pandemic level margins in fiscal year 2021, according to Moody’s. 

6. Falls Church, Va.-based Inova Health System has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The system has a strong financial profile, and Moody’s expects Inova’s balance sheet to remain exceptionally strong. 

7. Philadelphia-based Main Line Health has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The credit rating agency expects the system’s operations to recover after the COVID-19 pandemic and for it to resume its track record of strong operating cash flow margins. 

8. Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The system has an excellent reputation and generates strong patient demand at its academic medical centers in Minnesota, Arizona and Florida, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency said strong patient demand and proactive expense control measures would likely fuel good results for Mayo for the fiscal year that ended Dec. 31.

9. Midland-based MidMichigan Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The system generated healthy operational levels through fiscal year 2020, and Fitch expects it to continue generating strong cash flow. 

10. Chicago-based Northwestern Memorial HealthCare has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system had strong pre-COVID margins and liquidity, Moody’s said. The credit rating agency expects the system to maintain strong operating cash flow margins. 

11. Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Novant Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The system has strong margins and each of its markets have met or exceeded budgeted expectations over the past four years, Fitch said.  

12. Albuquerque, N.M.-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services has an “AA” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The health system has a strong financial profile and a leading market position in Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico, Fitch said. The credit rating agency said it believes Presbyterian Healthcare Services is more resilient to pandemic disruptions than most other hospital systems. 

13. Renton, Wash.-based Providence has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. Providence has a large revenue base and a leading market share in most of its markets, according to Moody’s. The credit rating agency expects the system’s operations to improve this year. 

14. Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch. The rating is driven by Trinity’s national size and scale, with significant market presence in several states, Fitch said. The credit rating agency expects the system’s operating margins to improve in the long term. 

CHI Franciscan, Virginia Mason officially merge: 5 things to know

Virginia Mason-CHI Franciscan merger raises concerns about Catholic limits  on care | Local | yakimaherald.com

CHI Franciscan and Virginia Mason officially formed an 11-hospital health system Jan. 5. The system, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, will be part of Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health.

Five things to know: 

1. The merger comes as Virginia Mason Memorial in Yakima, Wash., ended its affiliation with Virginia Mason. The Yakima hospital’s board said it wanted to become an “independent, local healthcare system” instead of joining a larger system. The board’s decision came after a group of retired physicians affiliated with Virginia Mason Memorial argued a merger would result in fewer specialty services, fewer specialized physicians and lower quality patient care. Virginia Mason health system officials disagreed, arguing the merger could improve healthcare locally.

2. The combined Virginia Mason Franciscan Health will have more than 300 care sites in western Washington. That includes primary and specialty care clinics, surgery centers, the Benaroya Research Institute, the Bailey-Boushay House and the Virginia Mason Institute.

3. The organization will initially be led through a dyad CEO model by Ketul Patel and Gary Kaplan, MD. Mr. Patel’s title is CEO of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and president of the Pacific Northwest Division of CommonSpirit Health. Dr. Kaplan’s title is CEO of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. More details about the new system’s leadership team will be released in coming weeks, the executives said in a Jan. 4 phone interview with Becker’s Hospital Review.

4. The combination will bring Virginia Mason under the CommonSpirit umbrella, which is a Catholic health system. During the Jan. 4 interview, Dr. Kaplan said the merger will mean two services will end at the newly combined Virginia Mason Franciscan Health: elective abortions and “Death with Dignity” services. All other comprehensive aspects of end-of-life and palliative care, as well as access to women’s and LGBTQ+ services, will remain available, Dr. Kaplan said.

5. The deal, announced in July 2020, will result in a health system with more than 18,000 workers, including almost 5,000 employed physicians and affiliated providers. CHI Franciscan is based in Tacoma, Wash., and Virginia Mason is based in Seattle.

CHI Franciscan, Virginia Mason ink definitive agreement to combine

Virginia Mason and CHI Franciscan Announce Merger

Two hospital systems in Washington state, CHI Franciscan and Virginia Mason Health System, have signed a definitive agreement to combine through a joint operating company that would be a subsidiary of Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health. 

The two organizations inked the agreement Dec. 21 and made it public Dec. 23. The parties signed a letter of intent to explore a combination in July.

The combination would create a nine-hospital system. Two of the hospitals would be from Seattle-based Virginia Mason and seven would come from Tacoma, Wash.-based CHI Franciscan, which is part of CommonSpirit Health.

News of the planned merger prompted Virginia Mason’s 256-bed hospital in Yakima, Wash., to part ways with the health system before it combined with CHI Franciscan. The board of Virginia Mason Memorial said it wants to become an “independent, local healthcare system” instead of joining a larger system. 

The two health systems said they expect the transaction to be finalized around Jan. 1, 2021, pending regulatory approval. 

7 hospital mergers called off in past year

Garner Health Law Corporation

There were several hospital mergers that, at some point in their lifetime, were called off in the past year. 

Below are seven hospital mergers called off since December 2019, beginning with the most recent:

1. Sanford, Intermountain halt merger talks
Sanford Health indefinitely suspended discussions in early December about a planned merger with Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Health because of the abrupt exit of Sanford’s longtime president and CEO, Kelby Krabbenhoft. Sanford and Intermountain announced in October they had signed a letter of intent to merge, with completion of the deal expected in 2021. The combination would create a $15 billion, 70-hospital system. In its statement issued Dec. 4, Sanford said it will pause current merger and acquisition activity while it addresses other organizational needs. 

2. Advocate Aurora, Beaumont cancel merger
Advocate Aurora Health, which has dual headquarters in Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill., and Southfield, Mich.-based Beaumont Health called off their merger plan Oct. 2, about five months after signing a letter of intent to combine. The proposed merger faced criticism from some Beaumont physiciansnurses and donors. In August, the Beaumont board of trustees confirmed it would delay a vote on the planned merger. The trustees decided to postpone the vote after seeing the results of a survey, completed by 1,500 of the system’s 5,000 physicians, that revealed a lack of confidence in Beaumont’s leadership and concerns about its proposed merger with Advocate Aurora. The merger of Beaumont and Advocate Aurora would have created a $17 billion system with 36 hospitals.

3. California hospital ends merger talks with Dignity Health
County officials overseeing Ventura (Calif.) County Medical Center ended merger talks with San Francisco-based Dignity Health in July after leaders from both parties deemed an affiliation too risky. County Health Care Agency Director Bill Foley said Dignity officials considered it a risk to take on public hospitals, while county managers were concerned they would give up control but still face risk for buildings and finances. County officials were also concerned VCMC would lose its designation as a public hospital under either a lease or a contract with Dignity, which would put roughly $150 million in annual funding at risk. 

4. Beaumont, Summa Health cancel $6.1B merger plan  
Southfield, Mich.-based Beaumont Health called off a proposed merger with Akron, Ohio-based Summa Health in late May. They ended talks about five months after signing a definitive agreement, under which Summa Health would have become a subsidiary of Beaumont. The proposed deal, which had already received all necessary regulatory approvals, would have created a nonprofit system with 12 hospitals and $6.1 billion in annual revenue. 

5. 4 Chicago hospitals call off $1.1B merger plan  
Chicago-based Advocate Trinity Hospital, Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, South Shore Hospital and St. Bernard Hospital signed a letter of intent in January to combine into a single health system and build at least one new hospital and several community health centers. The hospitals called off the deal in late May after government funding for the $1.1 billion plan fell through. 

6. Geisinger, AtlantiCare sever merger
Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger and Atlantic City, N.J.-based AtlantiCare severed their merger in March, about five years after the two systems combined. The separation of the two organizations is expected to take up to 18 months, the two organizations said in March. 

7. Wisconsin health systems call off merger
La Crosse, Wis.-based Gundersen Health System and Marshfield (Wis.) Clinic Health System abandoned plans in December 2019 to merge into a 13-hospital rural healthcare network. The two systems said they “mutually decided to remain independent” after several months of productive and collaborative discussions.

UMass Memorial, Harrington file merger plans

https://www.wbjournal.com/article/umass-memorial-harrington-file-merger-plans

Harrington Hospital in Southbridge

UMass Memorial Health Care and the Harrington HealthCare System have filed paperwork for regulatory approval for their plans for Harrington to become part of the UMass Memorial system.

Worcester-based UMass Memorial said Tuesday the two hospital systems filed the first in a series of required filings with state regulatory agencies for their proposed marriage. The review process, to include Massachusetts Health Policy Commission and Attorney General’s Office, is expected to take up to four months.

UMass Memorial and Harrington first said in January they intended on Harrington being folded into the much larger UMass Memorial system, which is the largest employer in Central Massachusetts. Harrington, whose main hospital is in Southbridge, has remained one of a small and shrinking number of independent hospitals in the state.

The two systems already collaborate through a system allowing Harrington care providers to consult remotely with UMass Memorial specialists in caring for critically ill patients. Harrington will also be brought into UMass Memorial’s electronic patient records system as part of the planned integration.

UMass Memorial has committed to operating Harrington’s hospital campuses in Southbridge and Webster as acute-care hospitals for at least five years. Upon regulatory approval, Harrington will join UMass Memorial’s Medical Center in Worcester, Marlborough Hospital and Clinton Hospital.

Sanford Health halts merger talks with Intermountain ‘indefinitely’

The South Dakota-based health system has suspended talks related to its planned merger with Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare after the sudden departure of its CEO, Kelby Krabbenhoft. Sanford and its new CEO will instead focus on organizational needs, the system said.

Sanford Health has indefinitely suspended talks with Intermountain Healthcare about their planned merger.

The decision to halt merger talks comes about two weeks after Sanford Health and President and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft mutually agreed to part ways. Krabbenhoft led the 46-hospital system for 24 years, assuming the top position in 1996. A press release noted his contributions to the Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based organization’s growth from a community hospital into a large rural nonprofit spanning 26 states.

Sanford Health did not give an official reason for Krabbenhoft’s sudden departure, but days before the announcement, CNN obtained an email sent by the former CEO to health system staff telling them that he had contracted Covid-19 and recovered. He also said he would not be wearing a mask.

Krabbenhoft said there was “growing evidence” of immunity to the new coronavirus and that wearing a mask “sends an untruthful message that I am susceptible to infection or could transmit it. I have no interest in using masks as a symbolic gesture,” CNN reported. But evidence regarding immunity after recovery from Covid-19 is still limited and some reinfections have been reported.

Bill Gassen, previously serving as chief administrative officer, succeeded Krabbenhoft as the organization’s new leader.

The health system decided to stop merger activity to address other organizational needs as Gassen takes over, according to a press release.

“With this leadership change, it’s an important time to refocus our efforts internally as we assess the future direction of our organization,” Gassen said in the press release. “We continue to prioritize taking care of our patients, our people, and the communities we serve as we look to shape our path forward.”

Sanford and Intermountain declined to comment on whether the organizations are planning to resume talks in the future.

“We are disappointed but understand the recent leadership change at Sanford Health has influenced their priorities,” said Dr. Marc Harrison, president and CEO of Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare, in the press release. “There’s much to admire about the work that Sanford Health is doing. We continue to share a strong vision for the future of healthcare.”

Had the talks continued and the merger been approved, the combined organization would have included 70 hospitals, 435 clinics and 233 senior care locations. It was expected to generate about $15 billion in total annual revenue.

Intermountain’s Harrison was slated to serve as the combined system’s leader, while Krabbenhoft was to serve as president emeritus.