After months of discussions, Northeast Georgia and Habersham medical centers have taken an official step in outlining a proposed partnership.
NGMC and the Habersham County Hospital Authority signed a letter of intent Tuesday night, allowing the two organizations to legally share financial and employment models and service lines that will help determine the specifics of an agreement.
The hospitals have been discussing the possibility of sharing resources and services since a Habersham official contacted NGMC earlier this year to express interest.
“At the end of the day, we’re looking at taking over the day-to-day operations of it,” Benny Bagwell, chairman of the Hospital Authority of Hall County, said. “So it would mirror more of what we do here at Northeast Georgia. There would be a lot of consistency between the two hospitals.”
Bagwell said the affiliation between the two hospitals will ultimately provide better care to patients in the area.
“We didn’t want to come across that we’re the big guys coming in to take over anything,” Bagwell said. “We’re not. We know the success of their hospital means a whole lot to the success of ours.”
Bagwell praised the Habersham center as being a good, quality hospital but said sometimes people have a perception about smaller or larger hospitals when they are seeking medical care.
Bagwell said NGMC already has a lot of market share in Habersham’s region and is aware that some people may bypass seeking care at the smaller hospital in favor of the larger because of the NGMC brand.
“They have a great emergency room and a lot of things that need to stay intact,” Bagwell said. “There are a lot of things that they’re doing great up there that need to remain. As far as being efficient, a lot of times buying power comes with the scale and size of the hospital.”
By forming an affiliation between the two, Habersham will be able to take advantage of NGMC’s size to help improve services, save money and improve efficiency.
“In these times, the small rural hospital has a difficult time surviving,” said David Kerby, chairman of the Hospital Authority of Habersham County. “Affiliating with a larger partner will allow the smaller hospital to avail itself of things like (information technology) structures that are all but unaffordable in small organizations. You’ll have a more streamlined and efficient billing system. ... a small organization really taxes their ability to provide services to the community because you can’t afford these things.”
The type of arrangement between the organizations has not yet been determined but the organizations specified working toward a possible lease agreement in the letter.
“A lease makes sense for our organizations due to the level of integration our hospital needs to be successful for the future,” said Jerry Wise, CEO of Habersham Medical Center. “A lease allows us access to the sophisticated infrastructure already in place at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, such as information technology and revenue cycle processes, that we must have to be positioned well going forward.”
NGMC leases its hospital from the Hospital Authority of Hall County and the city of Gainesville.
Bagwell said the lease model has worked well for the past 25 years. The authority provides oversight to NGMC, ensuring quality and continuity while allowing NGMC officials to operate the hospital independently.
Officials from both hospitals will continue exploring the details and terms of an agreement and will not finalize plans until after a period of due diligence, which is expected to last until the end of fall.
When completed, the agreement will be submitted to the state’s attorney general for review. The review is expected to take between four and six months.
Hospital officials do not expect any operational changes to take place until spring of next year.