The master affiliation agreement announced by the University of Michigan Health System and Trinity Health-Michigan last week will “form the basis for future efforts to coordinate hospital care, children’s care, cancer care, health research, doctor training and hiring, and more,” according to the two organizations.
The UMHS C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, which just moved into a new facility completed on campus in Ann Arbor in December, is among the highest ranked pediatric hospitals in the U.S., according to an annual survey by U.S. News & World Report.
Trinity Health-Michigan, which includes Mercy Health Partners hospitals in Grand Rapids and Muskegon, is part of Trinity Health, one of the nation’s largest Catholic health care systems, with 47 acute care hospitals and other facilities in 10 states across the nation.
The U.S. News & World Report Best Children’s Hospitals 2011-2012, released last year, lists C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital as No. 3 in the nation in pediatric cardiology and heart surgery. No other Michigan hospitals are listed by the publication in the top three in any pediatric category.
However, Roger Spoelman of Mercy Health Partners said the new affiliation should not be seen as a move to draw patients away from Spectrum Health System’s Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
“It’s going to mean nothing. We enjoy very close working relations” with DeVos Children’s Hospital, said Spoelman. “This will not supplant that.”
Spoelman is president/CEO of Mercy Health Partners, which includes Saint Mary’s Health Care System in Grand Rapids, plus Muskegon General, Hackley and Mercy hospitals in Muskegon, and several others located from Battle Creek to Cadillac and Grayling.
“There is no upside to competing” with Spectrum Health, said Spoelman, adding that it is a “very fine organization” with “fine quality” medical care, and DeVos Children’s Hospital is a “wonderful” hospital for children.
When contacted by the Business Journal, Carrie Manders, director of public relations at Spectrum, said, “Spectrum Health is not familiar with what the affiliation (agreement) says, so there is nothing to comment on.”
The joint announcement by UMHS and Trinity Health-Michigan said the affiliation “paves the way for close cooperation between the two health systems that will benefit patients around the state.” It reflects an intent to “work together on specific opportunities that may be developed by teams of physicians and leaders from both systems.”
Initially, according to the announcement, the two organizations “will explore areas that include inpatient hospital capacity, high-complexity care for the most seriously ill patients, children’s care, cancer care, physician training and hiring, clinical research and support services such as information technology.”
The goal of the affiliation is “to use the complementary strengths and geographic location of UMHS and Trinity-Michigan services to help patients get the care they need in the most appropriate place,” states the announcement.
UMHS includes three hospitals on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor and dozens of outpatient centers and clinics around the state. Trinity Health-Michigan is one of the largest employers in Michigan, with more than 27,000 employees and serving 31 counties with 14 hospitals, numerous ambulatory sites, eight nursing homes, 17 senior housing facilities, nine home health care agencies and six hospice agencies.
“We are thrilled to embark on this level of affiliation, which makes us Trinity’s preferred academic partner in Michigan and sets the stage for great things to come,” said Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, M.D., executive vice president for medical affairs at U-M and CEO of UMHS.
“This makes possible so many opportunities that could benefit patients statewide by providing the care they need at the best place for them, ensuring our future supply of physicians and creating new knowledge from research.”
UMHS and Trinity Health-Michigan said they will also seek to “improve the safety net for the uninsured. That effort will begin with southeastern Michigan, where both health systems are based, and grow to the rest of the state.”
The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is intended to increase insurance coverage among all Americans, but Spoelman said, “We calculate it will cover half the currently uninsured — only half.”
He noted that UMHS has been one of 15 organizations involved for the past five years “in the preparation for health care reform, trying to re-create the delivery system for Medicare and Medicaid, but mostly Medicare,” and he added it is “one of the few (demonstration projects) declared successful” in maintaining quality while keeping costs under control.
The two organizations also pointed out that the affiliation positions them “to take advantage of new federal and state programs, such as accountable care organizations, or ACOs, that incentivize health systems to provide better and more coordinated care for entire populations of patients, while also containing the growth of costs.”
Spoelman said an ACO brings a hospital and all its programs together, along with the medical staff (both employed and affiliated physicians), and creates a structure that allows it “to take the financial and medical responsibility for a population.”
He said the government has stipulated that an ACO must serve a group of at least 50,000 people, “which is not going to be easy to do” in some areas where the hospitals are smaller.
An ACO is “going to take care of all of it,” he said. “That’s where I believe these government programs are going, and if it works for Medicare, they’re going to do the same thing for Medicaid.”
An ACO involving UMHS and Trinity is the likely next step, he said. “We’re talking about it. You have to have structure, so we’ve created the structure.”
Spoelman said the affiliation will serve employers much better and help them control costs of providing health care insurance for their employees, by doing that “in creative ways.”
When asked what the main impact will be on the MHP hospitals in Grand Rapids and Muskegon, Spoelman said that “if a subspecialty is not available, we will have access to this research organization” at the University of Michigan, which “spends half a billion a year on research.”
Spoelman said he has jokingly told friends at U-M that “you’ve got to be the university of Michigan, not the university of Washtenaw County.”