MGH CEO: LifePoint looking at additional U.P. hospital partnerships

MARQUETTE – As Bell Hospital and Portage Health work toward partnerships with LifePoint Hospitals, the Tennessee-based company is eyeing more hospitals in the Upper Peninsula.

Marquette General Hospital CEO Gary Muller said officials at the hospital work closely with the LifePoint development team and the company is in discussions with a few area hospitals, which he declined to identify.

“They are looking at I’d say two or three others at this point and after that I don’t know,” Muller said. “I think what we’re finding is that these individual hospital boards are out there going, ‘Can I maintain my independence? Yes? No?’ and if they say, ‘No,’ then they’re talking to LifePoint, and I know there’s three of them that have just started the discussions.”

Muller said the result may be an additional partnership agreement announced this year.

“There’s one that’s closer than the other two,” Muller said.

LifePoint Hospitals was founded in 1999 and has grown from a network of 23 facilities scattered across the country in non-urban markets to a leading hospital company with nearly 60 campuses situated in 20 states and more than $3.5 billion in revenue, according to the company’s website.

In late February, Portage Health System announced it was pursuing a joint ownership and governance partnership with LifePoint for Portage’s 36-bed acute-care hospital and a 60-bed skilled nursing unit and related health care services in Hancock-Houghton, along with nine other locations throughout the Copper Country.

A week later, Bell Hospital in Ishpeming said it intended to sell its 25-bed critical access hospital to LifePoint. Bell has 350 employees and more than 90 physicians on its active and consulting medical staff.

Portage and Bell have signed letters of intent with LifePoint. The letters are non-binding agreements allowing the parties to move forward with the necessary steps to pursue their proposed partnerships.

The parties will enter a due diligence and negotiation process, which takes up to 90 days. After that, a definitive agreement could be reached. The proposed Bell and Portage transactions would be subject to review and approval by the state attorney general.

Marquette General went through the same process before being purchased by Duke LifePoint Healthcare last September. Duke LifePoint is a joint venture of LifePoint Hospitals and Duke University Health System.

Bell and Portage will not be governed in any way by Marquette General Hospital. However, the three facilities will be associated as members of Superior Health Partners, a growing group of hospitals combining their local efforts to collectively battle outmigration of patients to other areas.

There are currently eight hospitals in Superior Health Partners, with another expected to be announced soon and a 10th in discussions slated for next month.

In addition to Bell, Portage and Marquette General, current Superior Health Partners facilities include Baraga County Memorial Hospital, Dickinson County Healthcare System, Munising Memorial Hospital and Health Services, Helen Newberry Joy Hospital and Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital in Manistique.

“The vision of what we had talked about five years ago when SHP started was to bring our community together,” Muller said.

LifePoint Hospitals fits well with the group’s philosophy as a company focused on “providing quality health care close to home,” and often being the sole hospital provider in most of the communities it services. LifePoint Hospitals has more than 28,000 employees and 3,000 physician partners.

In 2011, LifePoint Hospitals became the only private organization in the country chosen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be a Hospital Engagement Network in the Partnership for Patients Initiative, a nationwide public-private collaboration to improve the quality, safety, and affordability of health care for all Americans, according to the company’s website.

The anticipated collaborative efforts of LifePoint Hospitals, Duke LifePoint and Superior Health Partners could work to help all three entities reach their goals.

“Today we’re more into collaboration than ever, we being health care as an industry,” Muller said. “And what we’re doing here, quite honestly, is sort of out there ahead of most of them, which is good.”

Muller said LifePoint “has not been shy” about its expansive intentions.

“Lifepoint does have a vision to create a real strong network in the U.P.,” Muller said. “No question.”

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.