Perry

Rhonda Perry, executive vice president and chief operations officer for Navicent Health, talks with The Union-Recorder on Thursday afternoon. Billy W. Hobbs/The Union-Recorder

Navicent Health announced Thursday that it will enter into a strategic partnership with North Carolina-based Atrium Health. Officials with both organizations signed a letter of intent detailing the plan, which will aim to provide accessibility, affordability and equity of healthcare to central and south Georgia.

Atrium Health, formerly known as Carolina’s Healthcare System, is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, while Navicent Health Systems, Inc. is located in Macon and owns Navicent Health Baldwin in Milledgeville.

The next step in the partnership process will be to enter into what a Navicent Health official called “thoughtful negotiations and due diligence.”

“We’re hoping by late summer or early fall to have everything finalized,” said Rhonda Perry, executive vice-president and chief operations officer at Navicent Health, who talked with The Union-Recorder shortly after she explained the partnership to employees at the local hospital Thursday afternoon.

When asked the specific reason for creating the partnership, Perry referenced necessary changes related to the Affordable Care Act such as cost reductions. She said Navicent Health officials have realized that within approximately five years they would need to take $200 million in cost out of their system.

“We’re targeting anywhere from $30 to $50 million a year and have formed a partnership with GE (General Electric) to start working on cost transformation,” Perry told the newspaper. “What has happened with the Affordable Care reforms, we have lost approximately $200 million, as it’s projected over the coming years we will lose in Medicare disproportionate share hospital funding.”

“We discussed all of this with our board members,” Perry said. “And as we talked with the board, we also talked about how very much we value our AA credit rating. That has been something that has been very important for us to be able to access the debt markets and to be able to use debt instead of having to spend our cash, because we are a very strong, financially-sound hospital.”

Perry said as Navicent Health has moved forward, there has been increasingly more pressure on operations.

Another factor in looking at a partnership was the fact that 10 years ago there were hospitals in existence that are no longer operating.

“As you look around Georgia, 10 years ago, you had Memorial in Savannah, Athens, Columbus, Grady and Albany,” Perry said. “Those were your safety-net hospitals. And what many in the smaller communities would say were the 100-pound gorillas … (yet) Memorial has been sold, Athens and Columbus. We said we've got to be forward-thinking and we want to be in control of our destiny, so let’s start thinking about how we look for a partner.”

Perry said a top priority in the search was finding the right partner.

The search was launched a little more than a year ago before Navicent Health purchased Oconee Regional Medical Center in Milledgeville, renaming it Navicent Health Baldwin in 2017.

Perry described the seach as “a very detailed process” that included working closely with consultants.

Perry pointed out three specific things that led Navicent officials to select Atrium as a potential partner:

  • Access to medical care for the many communities already served by Navicent Health;
  • Affordability for such medical care; and
  • Diversity and care for all.

Another driving force was the service already provided to a large rural area throughout portions of central and south Georgia, Perry said. 

“That is Navicent’s system of care,” she explained. “We wanted a partner that would enhance rural healthcare in communities and not just be a top-down driven system.”

Perry said Atrium Health “was really a model” for bringing Telehealth services and could have the ability to provide behavioral health systems to smaller communities in Georgia.

Atrium Health is a 46-hospital system and employs 65,000 employees. Navicent Health employs about 6,500 employees and owns hospitals in Macon and Milledgeville, while managing Putnam General Hospital in Eatonton. 

In a press release, Dr. Ninfa M. Saunders, FACHE, president and chief executive officer of Navicent Health, said Navicent Health shares a mission with Atrium Health to continuously improve healthcare in this region.

“This is the first major partnership of its type in the Southeast region and ensures a Macon-based institution will continue to be the leading driver of healthcare in central Georgia and beyond, while continuing to elevate the care that is provided locally,” Saunders said. “This will also give us access to Atrium Health’s wide array of award-winning, proven successes and best practices in healthcare delivery that we can deploy in our service areas.”

Gene Woods, president and chief executive officer of Atrium Health, meanwhile, said in the press release that his organization was focused on creating a personalized care experience for each and every patient, as well as the community that it serves.

“Whether it’s improving health for those living in urban and rural areas through access of the newest virtual care technology, elevating hope for the parent of a sick child through an innovative cancer treatment or advancing healing for a patient in our emergency department through integrated behavioral health services - the privilege to care for existing and new communities throughout central and south Georgia is another way to breathe life into our mission to care for all,” Woods said.

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