ECH moving toward an alignment with WellSpan

By on October 31, 2012

By: MICHELLE REIFF Review Staff, Staff Writer

Ephrata Community Hospital has taken a giant step toward the focus of patient management at the primary care level.

The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with WellSpan Health marks not only the beginning of a potential alignment of the two health care organizations, but also, according to ECH President John M. Porter Jr., the essential core for a new model of care.

"WellSpan is going to help us develop services to serve people not only currently but expand them in the future," said Porter, who feels the new model would improve patient outcomes. "Patients will have an alignment with their primary care physician who coordinates all the care that someone needs when they’re well, when they become acutely sick and when they have chronic challenges."

Currently, ECH has about 2,500 employees, volunteers and physicians as well as 10 outpatient health locations; Wellspan has more than 9,000 employees, volunteers and physicians as well as 35 outpatient health care locations.

Porter feels an array of possiblities would become available in an arrangement under which ECH would become part of WellSpan Health’s larger, non-profit, community-based system of care. They include: access to opportunities in terms of capitol markets that the hospital doesn’t have today and cost savings that it can’t access as a stand-alone organization.

WellSpan Health would operate ECH as well as current institutions WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital, WellSpan York Hospital and the WellSpan Surgery & Rehabilitation Hospital under separate licenses and medical staffs. Individual foundations would operate in Ephrata, York and Gettysburg, ensuring community involvement and focus on the unique health needs of these communities.

Should a final agreement be made, ECH will retain its name.

"We’ve agreed that our heritage name Ephrata Community Hospital is something that’s important and would continue," said Porter. "It may be developed to include a combination of names (for example, ‘Ephrata Community Hospital and Affiliate’ or ‘vision of WellSpan’), but our name would be retained because that is important to the services and the people that we serve."

According to the Memorandum of Understanding, ECH would continue to be governed by a local board of directors, which would have a formal relationship with the WellSpan Health board of directors. The ECH board would include members of the community as well as representatives from the WellSpan Health board. WellSpan’s organizational entities, which currently include the WellSpan Medical Group, WellSpan Specialty Services, WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital, WellSpan York Hospital and two philanthropic foundations, are governed by this structure.

WellSpan President Bruce M. Bartels feels that aligning the talents and competencies of both organizations would more effectively address the future challenges of a changing health care environment. Specifically, the organizations would seek to improve health across Central Pennsylvania while enhancing local systems of care in northern Lancaster, Adams and York counties; maintain existing relationships and clinical partnerships with other local health care providers; and offer stronger medical, nursing and allied health educational resources to address a projected shortage of physicians and health professionals.

"We’re both very interested in this experimentation, and you need as much intellectual capitol as you can muster to think of this reconception of health care," said Bartels of the impending affiliation. "When we discovered we both had a similar interest, that suggested to us that we might be stronger together than we would be separately."

Since the two entities are involved with the same insurers in Lancaster County used by the providers in York and Adams counties, Porter does not anticipate changes in that realm. He also surmises that the three staff shifts will remain static under the new alignment.

"If anything, what the parties are interested in is making hours of operation more convenient," agreed Bartels, anticipating a continuation of this trend as opposed to any restrictions. "We would work hard to see if we could generate more evening availability, more weekend availability, orienting ourselves to the busy schedules that people have these days."

In looking at the precedent of other organizations who joined WellSpan in the past, Bartels also does not feel there will be any material impact as far as clinical staff positions are concerned. Administratively, there may be some analysis required, but he does not anticipate any major changes in that area either.

Porter said that although ECH has been looking for a partner that has the same perspective for a number of years, discussions between the two organizations did not begin until early this year.

The talks have involved senior management and volunteer board leadership. Community board leaders and senior management will continue to explore the details of the potential affiliation.

The next steps include a period of formal due diligence and consideration of a final agreement by early 2013, followed by regulatory review. Porter is optimistic that by summer to fall next year everything will be approved.

Porter relayed that the team at ECH is very excited at the chance to work with WellSpan.

"We’ve had the opportunity to talk with Gettysburg board members/physicians (with whom alliances already exist), and they’ve very much benefited from this relationship," he said. "We’re confident that we will also benefit going forward. This really helps us solidify the future of ECH for service in this area." More HOSPITAL, page A16

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