Baptist Health Medical System and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, two of Arkansas’ largest healthcare organizations, announced Tuesday (Aug. 29) a strategic alliance to expand the hospital groups’ educational opportunities and deliver clinical care more efficiently.
Stressing that the alliance is not a merger, the Baptist Health and UAMS news comes as hospitals across the U.S. are increasing such partnerships to lower rising healthcare costs and improve delivery of care in local communities.
In announcing the Central Arkansas healthcare joint venture, officials from both hospital groups said the partnership will strengthen the two institutions’ collective ability to improve population health and care delivery across the state. The alliance and its moving parts still must be approved by the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees. The Baptist Health Board of Trustees have approved the alliance. Still, UAMS and Baptist Health executives said both organizations share a vision of delivering clinical care and have executive leadership teams committed to this alliance.
“Arkansas faces a wide range of significant health challenges, including obesity, cancer, heart disease, mental health and premature death,” said UAMS Interim Chancellor Stephanie Gardner. “Through this enhanced alliance, UAMS and Baptist Health can better help address those challenges to improve the health and well-being of Arkansans.”
Added Baptist Health CEO Troy Wells: “Collaboration is the key strength which will enable organizations like Baptist Health and UAMS to serve more Arkansans. The value of this alliance will be our collective efforts to improve health in a more deliberate manner to serve the needs of diverse communities.”
In the past, UAMS and Baptist Health have worked together seek to build on multiple joint initiatives that include physical medicine and rehabilitation (early 1980s), vascular surgery (2013), maternal-fetal medicine (2017), and antimicrobial stewardship (2017), as well as emergency medicine and orthopaedics at Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway (2017).
In a phone interview with Talk Business & Politics, Wells and Gardner said alliance discussions began a few years ago and sped up at the beginning of 2017 amid the ongoing national healthcare debate.
Although the alliance does not have any financial ties, both hospital groups are seeking synergies and ways to operate more efficiently through the hospitals’ joint efforts.
“A lot of things have happened that made what I feel like this (alliance) more important, and give us a greater the ability to have a greater impact on the community,” said Wells. “We share the same electronic medical records, which today is pretty important aspect of delivering patient care and tracking clinical information about our patients.”
Wells and Gardner said the Central Arkansas healthcare giants have talked about ways to leverage shared medical information, technology and clinical data, noting that many patients from both already move between both hospitals. They also don’t expect any job cuts from the alliance, although the joint venture could eliminate some redundancies and duplication of responsibilities and provide further cost savings – especially through the systems’ Medicaid cost-sharing program.
“In terms of workforce …, we don’t see this as having a negative impact on workforce,” Gardner said. “Really, we are expecting to expand the services we provide and hopefully create more jobs over time.”
EDUCATION COMPONENT, MEDICARE SUPPORT
In the education field, UAMS and Baptist Health will seek to increase the number of students and other trainees by creating broader opportunities for teaching and learning. In the area of graduate medical education, Baptist Health and UAMS intend to launch new physician residency programs, beginning with internal and family medicine at the Baptist Health Medical Center-North Little Rock campus.
In the area of clinical services and population health management, the two institutions are evaluating ways to maximize existing and new resources to enhance health care quality, safety, service and access while reducing costs.
The newly formed Baptist Health/UAMS Accountable Care Alliance also will coordinate care for patients receiving Medicare, initially offering service for 50,000 Arkansans starting in 2018. The alliance will work with Medicare to make sure health care providers have a more complete picture of a patient’s health to deliver the right care at the right time and avoid unnecessarily duplicating medical tests.
UAMS and Baptist Health officials said they have also have been in discussions with Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and Bost Inc. about forming Arkansas Advanced Care to serve Arkansas Medicaid recipients with behavioral health and/or developmental disability needs. This year, the Arkansas Legislature established the Provider-owned Arkansas Shared Savings Entity (PASSE), a new approach to managing Medicaid costs for eligible individuals with behavioral health and developmental disability health issues.
Arkansas Advanced Care would be a PASSE organization and would work with Arkansas officials to provide more efficient care and improve health and quality of life for these patients. Establishment of this PASSE organization is also contingent on approval from the UA Board of Trustees and the Baptist Health Board.
UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a northwest Arkansas regional campus; a statewide network of regional centers; and seven research institutes. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including about 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS and its regional campuses throughout the state
Baptist Health, a faith-based healthcare nonprofit that locally owned and managed, has 175 points of access and is also Arkansas’ most comprehensive health care organization and third largest private employer with more than 9,100 employees operating nine hospitals.
HOSPITAL ALLIANCE TRENDS
The UAMS-Baptist Health alliance is part of an ongoing trend in the health industry to tackle rising costs, brought on the competitive pressures from the Affordable Care Act, changes in Medicaid and evolution of the traditional fee-for-service reimbursement model to one that is based on improving outcomes for patients.
In a recent white paper on the growing number of healthcare alliances, Chicago-based advisory firm Baker Tilly said providers seeking to improve quality and lower costs are also pursuing other types of affiliations, including joint ventures and joint operating agreements with organizations that have complementary specialties.
“These alternatives may provide a better way to provide higher quality offerings to patients, as well as increased revenues for the participating providers,” Baker Tilly noted. “For these ventures to succeed, organizations need to identify their appropriate area(s) of strength and partner with other institutions that complement existing services.”
The UAMS-Baptist Health partnership also comes less than a week after the state Department of Human Services announced a reorganization that will shift 171 employees to a newly created division, impacting more than 40 DHS contracts and streamline the agency’s oversight of thousands of Medicaid providers across the state.