Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Wellmont, MSHA move toward merger

A triple aim initiative to improve the patient experience of care, improve the health of the population and reduce the per capita cost of health care in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia could be accomplished through the integration of the region’s two largest health care systems.
Officials from Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance signed a vision statement for such a partnership during a media briefing last week.
“Today is a historic announcement, but not the conclusion,” Wellmont Board Chair Roger Leonard said. “We have a long road ahead, but we’re excited to be diving into this work together.”
Speaking on behalf of the MSHA board, Chair Barbara Allen said they are determined to ensure the result is successful. “We should be, and will be, among the best health care systems in the nation,” she said. “Rather than simply surviving, we can thrive by sharing best practices and developing services closer to home.”
Leonard said Wellmont launched a thorough investigation more than a year ago to consider aligning with another organization, and the proposed merger would be a matter of combining two great systems into one.
“The process took longer than we expected, but I think it was well worth it,” he said. “It’s a merger of equals, but we had some very tough meetings.”
Allen said she would agree with that assessment. “My personal opinion is that a lot of the heavy lifting has been done.”
The boards have agreed to a leadership structure, which would have MSHA’s Alan Levine serving as chairman and president of the combined system and Wellmont’s Bart Hove holding the position of CEO.
While the exploration phase has been tagged with a Better Together logo, the proposed future health system would have a new name.
Levine is confident the merger can be accomplished legally. “There have been other models where this has been done successfully,” he said. “While this is unique, the model is not new.”
Hove said the savings from operating as one system will be reinvested in additional programs and services. “This is the start of a new era for health care in our region,” he said. “There is still much to be determined as to how the system will work, and much work to be done.”
A due diligence period is the next step in developing a plan, according to Hove. “Signing of a definitive agreement will lead to seeking regulatory approval,” he said. “We’re not sure how long it will take, but we think through 2015.”
The process will be led by an integration council of executives and physicians from both systems who will further develop plans for a combined system.
If finalized, the system will have a new board made up of equal representation from both systems and independent members, including the president of East Tennessee State University who would serve as an ex-officio nonvoting member.
“I’m honored the agreement calls for the president of the university to be part of the governance committee,” current ETSU President Brian Noland said, noting such representation is a best practice in national health care systems.
Dr. Jeff Farrow, a pulmonary and critical care physician with MSHA and a professor of medicine at ETSU’s Quillen College of Medicine, said the proposed merger is nothing he could have imagined when he came to the system in 1990. “An important goal is to become one of the most fulfilling places in the country to practice medicine,” he said.
Levine emphasized the proposed combining of forces does not include a reduction in facilities. “There are no plans to close any of the hospitals because access points to health care are part of the core of our mission.”
Another benefit, according to Levine, is the potential for job growth from new investments that would be attracted to the area through additional programs and research opportunities. “When we’re successful, we will watch the economy of this region take off, and we’ll know that it began here,” he said. “The rewards for the community will pay off for generations to come.”