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Batavia’s United Memorial Medical Center and Rochester General Health System plan to formally merge, officials of the health care organizations said Thursday.
Terms jointly announced by the systems call for United Memorial to retain its name and keep a separate board, an arrangement that mirrors terms of a merger finalized between the University of Rochester Medical Center and Canandaigua-based Thompson Health in 2012.
The systems hope to see the merger reviewed and approved by state Department of Health and Federal Trade Commission officials in six to eight months, RGHS CEO Mark Clement said.
A United Memorial/RGHS merger would also follow a string of similar deals in which rural, suburban and small-town hospitals have over the past few years have joined larger and more robust Rochester health systems.
While ceding some control of local hospitals can seem like a bitter pill to residents of more sparsely populated regions, the outlying and often under-used facilities have found it increasingly difficult to make budgets and attract sufficient medical staff to provide care.
RGHS has for more than five years provided urology, pathology, cardiology and other medical support services to United Memorial’s Genesee County hospital. Most recently, Clement said, it had added an infusion suite for cancer patients.
United Memorial’s decision to combine with a larger system came after hospital officials and board members weighed the merits of staying independent versus affiliating, United Memorial CEO Mark Schoell said. The choice came down to a question of maintaining the Genesee County system at status quo or growing and adding services and United Memorial chose the latter, he said.
Further formalizing its relationship with RGHS would let United Memorial continue to provide and expand services and over time would mean that fewer local residents would need to go to Rochester or Buffalos hospitals for needed care, Schoell predicted.
United Memorial held talks with other systems including Kaleida Health and Catholic Health System in Buffalo but chose RGHS because it and United Memorial were closest in shared values and culture, Schoell said.
The system’s long affiliation also played a role. Previously like a dating couple, Schoell said, United Memorial and RGHS were now announcing their engagement and planning a wedding.
Clement cited RGHS’ more-than decade old merger with Newark-Wayne Community Hospital in Wayne County as an example of what an affiliation could do for small community hospitals.
As one of the first steps in creating RGHS, Rochester General Hospital absorbed two small Wayne County Hospitals in the late 1990s, combining their operations in a single institution to create Newark-Wayne. In succeeding years, it combined its medical staff with Newark-Wayne’s and made improvements, most recently completing a new ED.
As a result, Newark-Wayne is now the fastest growing community hospital in New York and at a time when other rural hospitals are struggling, it is seeing an increasing volume of patients and adding staff, Clement said.
The folding of outlying community hospitals into larger systems mean the provision of area health care is increasingly consolidating into sprawling and ever larger systems. As the trend plays out, it appears that most health care in the region will ultimately be provided by one or the other of the two health systems that are likely to emerge.
The merger between RGHS, which is the already in process of merging with Unity Health System and Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic, would ultimately create a five-hospital system, spanning four counties.
RGHS now includes Rochester General and Newark-Wayne. The five-hospital system that would ultimately emerge with completion of the in-progress mergers would be rechristened with a still undetermined name, Unity and RGHS officials have said.
In addition to Thompson in Ontario County, URMC, which includes Rochester’s Strong Memorial and Highland Hospital, previously announced a formal affiliation with Nicholas Noyes Memorial Hospital in Livingston County. It last year acquired the former Lakeside Memorial Hospital shortly after the financially strained Brockport hospital shut down.
Renamed Strong West, the former Brockport hospital is currently operating as an urgent care center under Strong Memorial’s license. URMC plans to convert it to a freestanding emergency department and ambulatory surgery center. It hopes to see the conversion complete before the end of this year.
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