ELYRIA — EMH Healthcare officials announced publicly Thursday a plan to have Cleveland-based University Hospitals take over the Lorain County medical entity.
The announcement stopped short of calling the move a sale. It was instead described as a full integration of EMH into the UH brand. It will be more than 90 days before the process is complete and will likely result in the current EMH Elyria Medical Center and other facilities having the UH name by year’s end.
“This is not in any shape, form or fashion a sale,” said Jeff Brausch, chairman of the board for Comprehensive Healthcare of Ohio, the parent company of EMH. “When you are talking about a nonprofit organization, our assets will be absorbed into the entirety of UH, and we will have the strength and backing of UH in our local community.”
No financial information was released about the deal.
Don Sheldon, EMH’s chief executive officer, said that in the coming months, every aspect of the EMH organization will be thoroughly evaluated by UH, as only a letter of intent to explore integration has been signed at this point. But both parties agree that talks would not have progressed to this level if the full intent was not to move forward.
“Our main objective going into this process is to make sure we have a strong hospital that remains in Elyria,” Sheldon said. “It was a matter of us needing a big brother, so to speak, that has bigger strengths for us to collaborate with in the future.”
Brian Hoagland, chairman of the board for EMH Elyria Medical Center, said several possibilities for EMH’s future were explored in recent years.
“But UH was by far the best fit for us,” he said.
The need to partner with UH stemmed from continued changes in the health care industry that would make it nearly impossible for a hospital of EMH’s size — more than 2,100 employees — to stay competitive. Impending changes under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called “ObamaCare,” further convinced EMH officials that it needed to move fast.
“We are a hospital of midsize, and I think it’s been clearly known that we have been getting squeezed on all sides,” Brausch said.
Mercy Regional Medical Center, the county’s other major health care provider, is part of Catholic Health Partners, the largest health system in Ohio and one of the largest not-for-profit health systems in the nation.
Catholic Health Partners is further solidifying its presence in Northeast Ohio with the recent move to exploring the acquisition of Kaiser Permanente Ohio’s existing health program and its more than 80,000 members in the region.
“There are still many steps to complete before that transaction closes, including obtaining regulatory approval from the Ohio Department of Insurance,” said an email from Jennifer Cakir, Mercy’s marketing director.
UH, which includes 10 hospitals and 20 outpatient health centers and has stayed viable while competing against the Cleveland Clinic, does not take this venture lightly, said UH CEO Thomas Zenty III.
During initial conversations, Zenty said it was EMH’s commitment to patient care, its footprint in the community and commitment to primary and preventive care that made the integration proposal an attractive business model.
“We want to grow and develop EMH,” he said.
Zenty said a top-to-bottom review will look at EMH’s facilities, services, patient demographics and community relations. A similar process took place in Bedford, Richmond and Geauga, when smaller hospitals in each of those communities came under the UH umbrella.
“If you have followed UH practices in the past 10 years, you would see our approach is to bring services as close to people’s homes as we can,” Zenty said. “Our community hospitals serve to complement our main campus in bringing patient care to the community level. Simply put, we want as much care as possible right here in Elyria.”
Mercy already has a relationship with UH Seidman Cancer Center. Zenty said that relationship will have to be evaluated as well. He could not speak to how an affiliation with both hospitals, largely seen as competitors in the county, would work in the future.
Cakir said Mercy is looking forward to keeping the agreement in place.
“We have a positive partnership with University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center and look forward to continuing to work with University Hospitals to serve the Lorain County community and provide high-quality health care within the community,” she said in a statement.
Brausch said the physicians Lorain County residents see today and the services offered today will continue after the integration.
But what changes patients can see are being billed as positive ones.
Elyria will gain from having UH connected to its hospital, Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda said.
“From an economic development perspective, being part of this larger system with more resources will help the city retain and attract employers and families to our community,” she said. “Moreover, the new relationship is the best of both worlds: It allows Elyria to maintain its prestigious and historic local hospital and allows University Hospitals to inherit a proven, high-quality local health care provider that is committed to preserving and expanding its scope of services.”
Brinda said she has spoken with Sheldon and understands why this step had to be taken.
“This is a proactive step on behalf of EMH to preserve and expand the availability of high-quality health care in our community — and save local jobs. The current economic climate and the changing dynamics of health care require hospital systems to operate in a more regional approach,’’ she said.
EMH executives have been thinking along the collaborative spectrum for years.
In 2011, EMH, Parma Community General Hospital and Southwest General Health System teamed up to create the for-profit company Community Health Collaborative to look at ways for each entity to control costs. The move was geared toward the operations side of health care rather than the clinical side.
At that time, Sheldon said EMH could “no longer operate in isolation and expect to retain the necessary strength required to meet our mission to our community.”
EMH also began looking at its facility portfolio and making shifts in operations to strengthen its community health centers. EMH Amherst Hospital, which has been owned and operated by EMH since 1994, was transformed into a free-standing emergency room with a longterm acute care facility and adjoining, independently operated skilled nursing home.
Sheldon said at the announcement of the switch that it was the best scenario for the property, which had been draining $1 million a year from the health system’s budget for several years.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.