December 10, 2009 in City

Rockwood vote coming up

Physicians say deal would improve quality, direct patients to Deaconess
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Rockwood Clinic physicians are poised to boost patient numbers at Deaconess Medical Center and make the hospital more competitive with Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Rockwood’s 77 physician owners will vote Dec. 23 on a proposal by Deaconess’ owner to buy the region’s largest multispecialty clinic. The deal is widely expected to pass. Its financial terms have not been released, but a buyout of Rockwood by Community Health Systems Inc. would be a multimillion-dollar shakeup of the region’s medical community.

In a meeting Wednesday with The Spokesman-Review editorial board, the plan’s architects revealed their vision for the new system.

Rockwood has for years sent 90 percent of its patients needing hospitalization to Sacred Heart and sister hospital Holy Family.

The remaining 10 percent went to Deaconess.

The launch of an integrated health care system linking the operations of Rockwood and Deaconess would change those numbers, said the clinic’s Dr. Robert Benedetti.

Although patients will have a say in which hospital they are admitted to, Benedetti and other Rockwood leaders envision a system that would offer such quality care and efficiency that Deaconess would become the hospital of choice for the clinic’s tens of thousands of Spokane-area patients within five years.

Dr. Craig Whiting, the interim chief executive of Rockwood who engineered the deal, said the clinic would keep its name and maintain a local board that will direct priorities. He acknowledged that Community Health will have the final say on budgeting issues, but Rockwood physicians will direct patient care.

Many Rockwood physicians visited Community Health properties in other cities and came away impressed and convinced of their commitment to patient care, Whiting said.

Benedetti noted that Community Health gives its properties a degree of autonomy that enables quick decisions. The Rockwood leaders said that was in contrast to Providence, which has layers of decision-makers and has insisted on rebranding its properties, inserting the name “Providence” before the facilities’ historical name.

The Rockwood partnership with Deaconess would be the first such integrated clinic-hospital partnership at a Community Health property. Whiting said the model would be closely watched and could serve as a blueprint elsewhere.

Whiting said the clinic intends to use the financial clout of Community Health to make strategic inroads across the Northwest and bring its brand of integrated care to other communities, including those in Idaho, Montana and elsewhere in Eastern Washington.

Though Sacred Heart has sharply criticized the proposal, chief executive Dr. Andrew Agwunobi softened his language and apologized to doctors during a forum last month. He said he was surprised Rockwood chose Community Health rather than negotiating more with Providence.


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