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ACMC nears final stages in Carris Health agreements

Erica Dischino / Tribune File photo of ACMC shot Nov. 8, 2017. Affiliated Community Medical Centers shareholder physicians are getting ready to sign contracts this month with the new Carris Health entity.

WILLMAR — Shareholder agreements began arriving late last week in the mailboxes of the 89 physicians who hold ownership shares in Affiliated Community Medical Centers.

It is among the final steps as ACMC Health moves toward integration with Rice Memorial Hospital into a new joint entity, known as Carris Health, that will operate as a nonprofit subsidiary of CentraCare Health.

As a privately held organization, the process for ACMC looks different than it does for Rice Hospital, which is city-owned, subject to Minnesota's Open Meeting Law and under the ultimate authority of the Willmar City Council.

But the tracks are parallel and at several times have crossed over by necessity, said Dr. Cindy Smith, president of ACMC.

"We've been working through the negotiation. We've been working through the sale of our organization," she said. "I think we've worked through everything we need to, to get the integration documents completed."

The ACMC board of directors has already voted to proceed with the integration, in effect making the decision official, Smith said.

A shareholders' meeting is set for Monday, the same day the Willmar City Council is expected to vote on whether to approve a series of agreements for bringing Rice Hospital into Carris Health.

ACMC will know by the end of November which physicians have chosen to sign new contracts with Carris Health, Smith said.

Contracts also are going out to ACMC doctors in who are not shareholders in the organization and to the advanced-practice professionals, she said. About three-fourths of ACMC physicians own shares.

"We really anticipate that everyone will sign a new contract," Smith said.

Throughout the development of the affiliation agreements, many of the priorities for Rice and ACMC have been the same. For example, the legal agreements for both organizations require a continuing capital investment in buildings and equipment.

For ACMC, which has historically been physician-led, ensuring medical staff involvement in the future direction of Carris Health was seen as crucial, Smith said.

"The really important thing was having local physician leadership and governance. It makes for better patient care decisions. We wanted to preserve physician leadership."

Retaining ACMC's 900-some employees in the regional network also was a priority during the negotiations, she said. "We don't want to do this by losing employees. We expect to need more in the future."

Smith said there are no concerns ACMC might lose services or specialists to St. Cloud as a result of the affiliation with CentraCare. If anything, Willmar may gain patients for services that are less readily available elsewhere, she said, noting that CentraCare has expressed interest in ACMC's podiatry and audiology services and its Hearing and Balance Center.

The affiliation opens the door as well to sharing local specialists needed by CentraCare, such as surgeons and surgical subspecialties such as bariatric surgery and vascular surgery, Smith said.

"Our doctors are excited about that. We have services that CentraCare doesn't have," she said.

The leaders at both ACMC and Rice Hospital have stressed the need to share information, especially with their workforce, as the affiliation process goes forward.

Smith called it "absolutely critical."

"Our goal was to make this as transparent as possible, understanding that it creates anxiety for people," she said.

Meetings have been conducted throughout the fall to keep employees up to date, answer questions and give everyone an opportunity to meet the leadership of all three organizations in Carris Health — Smith; Mike Schramm, chief executive of Rice Hospital; and Ken Holmen, president of CentraCare.

A new employee benefits package was released this month and open enrollment is underway.

ACMC also has held meetings with hospital representatives in the various towns where its clinics are located.

Smith is optimistic that all the key pieces will be in place by Jan. 1, the target date for the Carris Health transition to take place.

"People are telling us that they intend to move forward," she said. "I've gotten questions, but I've gotten no real negatives. In the end it's going to be worth every minute of it."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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