Medical Center, Milledgeville hospital announce partnership

pramati@macon.comJuly 1, 2014 

MILLEDGEVILLE -- The leaders of The Medical Center of Central Georgia and Oconee Regional Medical Center in Milledgeville announced a new partnership between the two hospitals Tuesday.

At a news conference at the Milledgeville hospital, Jean Aycock, Oconee’s president and CEO, joined Dr. Ninfa Saunders, president and CEO of Central Georgia Health System Inc., to announce that the new partnership will allow the two hospitals to develop health care services and programs to serve the seven counties surrounding Milledgeville.

Saunders stressed that the partnership isn’t a financial merger but rather a strengthening of an existing partnership between the two hospital systems already in place through Stratus Health Care. That’s an alliance of shared services among hospitals and health care services throughout south and Middle Georgia.

“It will keep health care in the local community,” Saunders said. “Both organizations are like-minded in how they look at health care. (Oconee) will keep its independence, but at the same time, we’ll develop programs and services together. It’s a little more tight, a little more focused, a bigger piece than Stratus.”

Aycock said that due to changes in the health care industry as well as a lagging economy in Baldwin County, the partnership will help shore up Oconee Regional Medical Center. She noted that four rural hospitals in Georgia have closed over the past few months.

While Aycock said her hospital isn’t in danger of closing, she said it has faced its own financial challenges, such as a multimillion-dollar loss over the first three financial quarters for the fiscal year that ends in September. In addition, the S&P lowered the hospital’s bond rating from a BB-minus to CCC.

“I believe it will help,” Aycock said. “Hospital bonds don’t trade a lot, however.”

Saunders and Aycock alluded to a new outpatient facility being built at Montgomery Plaza in Milledgeville as an example of the partnership. Both health systems will split the costs and the profits once it opens, likely in the fall.

“It will provide added health care access in the north part of the county,” Aycock said, adding that the facility will offer primary and urgent care, occupational medicine, specialists, and radiology/labs for patients’ convenience.

“It’s part of the evolution of this. (The partnership) is a great solution for our organization. ... I remain hopeful that Baldwin County will see some economic development.”

Saunders said the agreement with Oconee is different than the one Central Georgia Health System has in Peach County, where a new hospital was opened thanks to capital from the health system.

Between the Peach County hospital and a new cancer center that’s being built in Macon, it might seem that Central Georgia Health System is expanding, but Saunders said that’s not quite the case. She said that while the cancer center is necessary, she’s not planning any other construction projects except to refurbish existing facilities.

“My philosophy is not too much brick-and-mortar expansion,” she said. “We’re going from a hospital-centric model to going out into the community to provide services. ... We’ve always had good partnerships. It’s been the impetus for us to focus on our communities.”

Saunders said the partnership with Oconee is important, since that hospital serves Baldwin, Jones, Putnam, Hancock, Wilkinson, Washington and Jasper counties.

Aycock said attorneys for both health systems will spend at least the next 60 days doing due diligence before the agreement is finished.

Once it goes through, it should change the hospitals’ cost structure and allow for more resources through economy of scale.

“It’s a great solution for our organization,” Aycock said. “It will give us more resources and experience. Obviously, we’ve had some collaboration in the past, but this will be much larger. ... It may sound sudden, but this has been under discussion for a while.”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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