Cumberland Times-News

January 24, 2013

WMHS mulls new affiliation

Local system in talks with Meritus, Frederick

Greg Larry
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — The Western Maryland Health System, Meritus Health and the Frederick Regional Health System, three independent providers of medical care, announced Thursday that an agreement had been signed between them to enter into strategic discussions for potential collaboration and affiliation.

According to a press release from the three providers, the agreement, signed by the chief executive officers of the three entities and their respective board of directors, is a memorandum of understanding to study and discuss the opportunities and benefits of the potential alliance.

“We are extremely pleased to enter into this agreement. Health reform and economic conditions have created pressures that make this the best opportunity for our community and the health care services within our region,” said Kathy Rogers, director of community relations for the Western Maryland Health System.

Frederick Regional Health System operates facilities and services in Frederick County,  including Frederick Memorial Hospital.

Meritus Health serves Washington County, including the Meritus Medical Center in Hagerstown, with WMHS serving Allegany County and the tri-state region.

Thomas A. Kleinhanzi, president and CEO of FRHS said, “The forces shaping health care are challenging for independent community hospitals and many are creating alliances for continued stability.”

Rogers said that at this point it is an understanding that a exploratory study will done to see how it could be beneficial to the institutions.

“We are in the first stages,” said Rogers.

A feasibility study with the Berkeley Research Group will get under way to explore the merits of the affiliation and collaboration. The study is expected to take several months before it will deliver its final recommendation.

Barry P. Ronan, president and CEO of WMHS, said, “We are three organizations that are deeply rooted in our communities. We share a common set of values, with rich traditions of service. We are exploring ways to work together to continue to best serve the health needs of our communities.”

Rogers would not expand on specifics of a union but the range of infrastructure improvements and services between the three providers would be far-reaching under the potential alliance.

Joseph P. Ross, president and CEO of Meritus Health said, “We are beginning discussions that will focus on our shared vision of clinical collaboration, physician services, support services and shared resources.”

Many hospitals over the past decade having entered into an umbrella system such as the expanding network under Valley Health, which uses the slogan “Healthier, Together.”

Valley Health has formed a network of hospitals and medical centers across Virginia and West Virginia which includes Hampshire Memorial Hospital.

Talking points created for release by the three health care providers alluded to that very potential.

“The objective is to develop a summary of the benefits of the three health systems forming a larger and more efficient health network.”

During the evaluation period to come, WMHS and the other two institutions have stated that they will conduct business as usual.

Greg Larry can be reached at glarry@times-news.com.