Navicent Health now one step closer to deal with out-of-state hospital system

Demand for emergency services causes Navicent to bring in mobile unit

The Medical Center Navicent Health brings in mobile unit from North Carolina to expand emergency services.
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The Medical Center Navicent Health brings in mobile unit from North Carolina to expand emergency services.

After months of negotiations, Navicent Health is one step closer to finalizing its partnership with Atrium Health, a nonprofit health care system based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Navicent Health Board of Directors and the Atrium Health Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the strategic combination Tuesday. The Georgia Attorney General’s Office has already authorized the proposed deal, which the two parties will finalize over the next several weeks.

“We believe this strategic combination between Atrium Health and Navicent Health will have a significant and positive impact on the communities we are privileged to serve, and we look forward to expanding access to quality healthcare while reducing disparities,” the health care systems wrote in a joint statement Tuesday.

“By working together, Atrium Health and Navicent Health can implement innovative treatment models like virtual care and telepsychiatry throughout central and south Georgia, creating the next generation of healthcare that is better for all we serve.”

Navicent Health has drastically expanded its reach since its humble beginnings as an eight-room community health care facility opened in 1895. Once The Macon Hospital, the not-for-profit health care network now operates the Medical Center downtown, as well as about two-dozen specialized care practices and urgent care centers throughout Macon. It also oversees regional hospitals in Baldwin, Monroe and Peach counties.

Navicent Health’s partnership with Atrium Health follows in the footsteps of a growing number of hospital system mergers and acquisitions, according to a recent report by health care management consulting firm Kaufman Hall.

Such deals increased 130 percent between 2009 and 2017, which saw 115 mergers and acquisitions, the report shows. There were 50 announced transactions between hospital systems in 2009.

Atrium Health is substantially larger than its Macon-based counterpart, with 65,000 employees across 47 hospitals and a net operating revenue of $9.8 billion, according to its 2016 community report.

Navicent Health has about 6,000 employees and declared $671.4 million in net revenue for fiscal year 2017, according to its most recent annual community report.

Navicent Health has specified, though, that the deal is not an acquisition, but rather, a strategic combination that will provide decision-making power to both partners.

“We want to be a regional hub,” Navicent president and CEO Ninfa Saunders said at a February Macon-Bibb County Board of Commission meeting. “If we partnered with hospitals in Atlanta, we would be a spoke. What happens if you’re a spoke? You’re told what to do.”

Partnering with an out-of-state system would provide its own set of advantages, she continued.

“By being a regional hub,” she said, “we will be able to develop the market in a way that’s still fitting to serve the state of Georgia.”

Navicent Health’s future partner has come under fire in recent weeks, though.

Atrium Health, formerly Carolinas HealthCare System, reached a settlement last month after a two-year legal fight with the U.S. Department of Justice over its alleged use of steering restrictions that hindered health insurers’ ability to provide more innovative and cost-effective options to consumers.

And a federal class action lawsuit filed in November alleges that Atrium Health has skirted legal protections for participants in its pension, 401(k) and health care plans by claiming to be a government entity. Litigation is ongoing.

The two health care systems will work out the details of their final agreement in the coming weeks.

“Once remaining details are completed,” their statement said, “we look forward to sharing additional information and more specific timing.”

Information from The Telegraph archives was used in this report.

Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member and reports for The Telegraph with support from the News/CoLab at Arizona State University. Follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/smax1996 and on Twitter @samanthaellimax. You can also join her Facebook group. Learn more about Report for America at www.reportforamerica.org.