Health Care Battle Shifts South

A map of Northeast Ohio, and a panel of health care executives at the Crain's Health Summit (pic: Sarah Jane Tribble)
A map of Northeast Ohio, and a panel of health care executives at the Crain's Health Summit (pic: Sarah Jane Tribble)
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Just this month, MetroHealth expanded to Brunswick, while the Cleveland Clinic acquired Superior Medical Care, an independent practice with offices in Lorain and Sheffield Village.

University Hospitals is building a $28 million outpatient health center off Interstate 77 in Broadview Heights….so is MetroHealth.

“Duplication of services within a very small area – literally across the street from one another – I don’t think serves the public well," says MetroHealth CEO Dr. Akram Boutrous. He says at the time of MetroHealth’s decision there was no indication that a rival facility was going up in the same area.

“I was disappointed that there wasn’t a reach out to say, ‘Hey, we want to do this. Would you guys consider joint venturing in a facility?’"

UH sees it differently. Dr. Eric Bieber is President of Community Hospitals in the Western Region.

“We think it’s particularly important, we’re gonna look at continuing ways that we can make it easy for patients to access care into our system. We think that evermore, care will be delivered in an ambulatory environment. And we see the Broadview Heights building just as an extension of that.”

More than 20 miles south, the Cleveland Clinic continues to expand its footprint.

It recently finalized a deal making it a minority owner of Akron General.

This is not about being swallowed up by the Clinic, says Akron General CEO Tim Stover; it’s about doing the right thing for patients of Summit County.

“Fish don’t need health care, so those systems in Cleveland couldn’t go north. But they also depend upon the eight or ten surrounding counties as their major market, and we’re one of those.”

Stover says physician leaders from Akron General and the Clinic will work together, to create an enhanced partnership.

Some health leaders in the region aren’t so sure Akron General will remain in control of its destiny.

“When you mention the Clinic, that isn’t a minority investment," says Tom Strauss, CEO of Summa Health System. "Eventually, that will move to a full asset merger. We believe within a year, they’ll have ability to take full control of General.”

Summa Health System faces a struggle of its own to control its fate. Last year, Mercy Health bought a 30 percent stake in Summa.

Mercy, formerly known as Catholic Health Partners, is investing $250 million in Summa as part of the deal.

“And so not only did we get an investment in Summa still maintaining our autonomy and local control here, but we’re now going to harvest additional savings in that affiliation, to the tune of almost $70 million a year by the end of 2016.”

Consolidation produces greater efficiency which keeps the costs of healthcare down – that’s the main argument for it.

And it’s pretty much inevitable, says Chris Seper. He’s CEO of MedCityNews, an online media company that tracks health industry trends. Seper says competition for market share and for patients will likely get even more fierce in the next few years.

“I would posit that maybe there’s three health systems 15 years from now," says Seper. "There will be blockbuster acquisitions that make everything we’re talking about here look tiny. And don’t think of it as Summa competing with Cleveland clinic. Think of what John Hopkins or Mayo Clinic decides to acquire Summa. That’s the equation you’re talking about.” (:19)

Or put another way – today’s big fish may eventually be swallowed by even bigger fish,

Or…we could see more fish swimming together….in schools.

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