Published on August 01, 2014

St. Vincent's and Bacon County hospital announce alliance

By Terry Dickson, The Florida Times Union  Fri, Aug 1, 2014 @ 3:41 pm                                                              

St. Vincent’s HealthCare and Bacon County Hospital in Alma have formed a strategic alliance that the systems say will provide better health care and wellbeing for the residents in their Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida services areas.

The two hospital systems signed the agreement Friday and there’s something in it for both, said Roger Boatright, chairman of the Bacon County Health Services Board.

“We’ll be purchasing through them. We can save about $600,000 a year in purchasing of supplies, equipment and other things. In return, we try to send our heart patients down there,’’ Boatright said.

Boatright said the hospital facilities are still owned by Bacon County and operated by a board that includes members of the publicly appointed Bacon County Hospital Authority.

“We’re still independent. We’re haven’t merged. We haven’t sold,’’ he said.

In a press release, the two systems said Bacon County Hospital would have access to St. Vincent’s “leveraged supply and its Mission Point health analytics and Health Partners community health management resources.”

As for referral of health patients, Boatright acknowledged that program has been going on for years, and in the release, Bacon County Hospital CEO Cindy Turner mentioned a couple of St. Vincent’s cardiologists, Willie Bell and Joel Ferree.

“Employed physicians from St. Vincent’s HealthCare, doctors Bell and Ferree, have been in our community for several years now, which makes this a natural referral service for cardiac services,’’ she said.

Actually, Bell and Ferree have been in the area for decades working as cardiologists in Waycross and sending their patients to St. Vincent’s for open heart surgery and other tertiary care.

Not that it’s been easy. They were among about a dozen St. Vincent’s physicians who had their privileges at the Waycross hospital revoked or restricted in 2005 by Satilla Health Services, which was managing the hospital at the time. The cardiologists sued, were granted an injunction and won a court judgement in 2008.

At the time, Waycross had allied with Baptist Health in Jacksonville for cardiac services, but it is now the Mayo Health System Clinic in Waycross.

Bill Mayher, St. Vincent’s vice president of regional development, couldn’t lay out the full extent of the cooperation between the hospitals.

“This is Day 1 of the affiliation. We don’t have plans yet,’’ but both systems have ideas that will be fully explored, Mayher said.

St. Vincent’s CEO Moody Chisolm said the health analytics program will help improve outcomes for the chronically ill and lower costs.

The program examines the treatment of the sickest and most frail to help educate those patients on how they can change diets or lifestyles to prevent repeated admissions to the hospital, Chisolm said.

Not only will that help the patients, it will result in lower costs to the government, company insurance plans or whomever is paying the bills, he said.

Like many rural hospitals, Bacon County has a need for primary care physicians and St. Vincent’s will provide access to those in training in Jacksonville, Chisolm said.

Turner said she was confident the alliance would help Bacon County Hospital expand clinical services in the community and help the hospital meet the “challenges that face the health care community with the Affordable Care Act.”

St. Vincents HealthCare is a member of Ascension Health, the country’s largest Catholic, non-profit health system. It has more than 100,000 associates working in 70 general acute care hospitals.

The nonprofit Bacon County Hospital and Health is a 25-bed general, acute care hospital and provides adult and pediatric medical care, surgery and obstetrics.

Boatright said Bacon County provides a lot of services that some larger hospitals don’t and that he, the other board members and the management staff are dedicated to making more improvements.

“We’re just trying to make the Alma hospital bigger and better,’’ he said.

Terry Dickson: (912) 264-0405