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Hospitals work toward possible partnership
Agreement expected to be finalized by September
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Northeast Georgia Health System and Habersham Medical Center are continuing to move forward with a potential partnership this year that would combine resources to better serve patients.

“The goal of a potential partnership is to better meet patient health care needs in the Northeast Georgia region,” Benny Bagwell, NGMC Authority board chairman, wrote in an email to The Times.

“Our organizations serve many mutual patients through their acute care and our specialty services. Therefore, it makes sense in this era of health care reform, where care coordination is essential, to see how we might partner to do that most effectively.”

A partnership is still in the beginning phase. Both systems have enlisted Kaufman Hall, a consulting firm, to advise in strategic planning and information gathering.

The hospitals expect to review the firm’s findings and come up with possible partnership and financial models and terms of a partnership by early summer.

The hospitals expect to finalize the potential agreement in September.

Leaders from both centers have established specific expectations for a potential partnership.

Among those are including enhancing health care services to Habersham residents and keeping community leaders informed and involved in the planning process.

David Kerby, chairman of the board of trustees of the Habersham Medical Center, said hospital officials had the idea of forming a partnership for a little more than a year and have been in “discussions about discussions” so far.

“The main thing is that Habersham Medical Center is a small, rural health system, and with today’s climate in the medical industry, a small, rural health system like Habersham and many others cannot stand alone,” Kerby said.

“It needs to have partnerships with larger organizations so that they can pool their resources and treat patients.”

While it is still too soon to know what such a partnership may look like, Kerby said he expects the hospitals to focus on ways to share their particular areas of strength.

Both hospitals are assessing how they coordinate patients’ care, information systems and the distribution of health care services.

Bagwell said from those assessments, both organizations will become better prepared for health care reform.

“We are seeing dramatic changes to the health care delivery landscape, fueled by both the private market and public initiatives,” Bagwell said.

“As care coordination becomes even more essential, health care organizations across the country are increasingly looking at partnership models, as our organizations are doing. We announced this joint strategic planning effort in December and are moving forward in the first phase of the process.”

The centers have had a long-standing relationship and have had several partnership programs for several years. Habersham County EMS crews work with the STEMI cardiac care program at NGHS. HMC intends to join NGMC and other partners in the region in a health information exchange program called Health-e-Connection, allowing hospitals and physicians to share medical data.

Both hospitals have also been a part of a preferred provider organization called Northeast Georgia Health Partners since the 1990s.

“We feel very positive about our relationship with Northeast Georgia Health Systems and the strength they can offer us,” Kerby said.

“And we have strengths to offer also. Once we get some kind of affiliation together, I would want people to know that the Northeast Georgia area of the state will be far better served medically than it is now.”

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