Intermountain Healthcare’s merger with SCL Health will have long-term benefits for Utahns, executives say
After years of matchmaking and negotiation, Intermountain Healthcare has completed its merger with SCL Health, expanding the nonprofit’s reach across the country and bringing eight additional hospitals and 160 new clinics under the Intermountain name. The combined organization now represents the 11th largest nonprofit health care system in the United States, according to a press release.
Organizational leaders say the change is about sustainability and will improve the ability of Utah’s largest hospital system to deliver value for its patients – both new and current. Intermountain has been in merger talks with other health systems for years, first with Dakota-based Sanford Health in 2020 (the proposed merger fell through later that year), then with SCL Health. The organizations first announced their intention to merge last September, and the final merger officially took place on April 1.
“They wanted to join us because of our focus on innovation, digital transformation and telehealth, [our] support to rural communities, how we have continued to change the way we deliver care so that it is less and less expensive and more accessible and closer to home for people,” said Dr Marc Harrison, CEO of Intermountain, at the Salt Lake Tribune.
Trained in critical care pediatrics, he says he wants to see the Intermountain Method spread across the country, a model he describes as providing “demonstrably high quality, demonstrably low cost, demonstrably innovative and demonstrably humane” care.
Harrison thinks Intermountain has solutions to many of the nation’s health problems; this is one of the reasons it has pursued partnerships with non-market organizations for so long. The merger will allow Intermountain to serve the communities of four new states: Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Kansas, adding to its list of facilities in Utah, Idaho and Nevada.
It will also give the doctor a chance to test their hypothesis of what healthcare in the United States should look like.
“Here in Utah, we are very fortunate to live in a healthy state, with good health care that is, relatively speaking, affordable,” he said. “Not many people in the country can say that. And the more we can learn to dig into that, and the more we can drive that movement across the United States, I think the better for Americans.
In some ways, his faith in the Utah-based system dates back to the organization’s genesis nearly half a century ago.
When Intermountain Healthcare started in 1975, it had one directive: to become a model system that others could emulate, said Michael Leavitt, former governor of Utah and new chairman of Intermountain’s board of directors. He sees the merger as a sign that Intermountain has achieved this goal.
“I’m safe to say that if you ask 100 knowledgeable people who they think are the top five [health] systems in the country were, 90% of them would rank Intermountain in their top five,” he told the Tribune.
“It wasn’t designed to just be a Utah system,” Leavitt said of Intermountain, explaining Harrison’s shared mission of expansion. there is an interior West here that is economically and culturally integrated…. What will happen here is that the quality of care throughout this region will improve, not just because Intermountain is there, but because ‘they hold a new standard.
The merger will also increase Intermountain’s sustainability, the new president said, allowing it to continue to pursue institutional goals as a non-profit organization that cannot enter capital markets for funding.
When the merger was announced in September, Harrison estimated the combined systems would generate about $14 billion in annual revenue.
Historically, healthcare mergers have done little to help patients’ wallets, according to research from the Center for American Progress. Consolidation in the market often leads to less competition, which leads to higher prices. However, since the Intermountain merger is an expansion of care across states, rather than a consolidation of market share in one geographic location, Harrison said it would not reduce competition.
It remains to be seen how the merger will affect costs for patients, and in what way.
Leavitt, who also served as secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services during the George W. Bush administration, said there is a continuing movement in health care away from paid medicine to action and towards value-based care, which emphasizes better outcomes and lower costs.
Will Utahns see a change in health care?
Despite all the benefits Harrison foresees from the merger, he doesn’t think the Utahns will notice any big changes — at least not right away.
The integration process is expected to take two years, during which the organizations’ ancillary teams, such as the human resources and finance departments, will be combined. Leaders from both organizations have already served in leadership roles, including on the new board, and Harrison expects a healthy cross-pollination of people and ideas.
Harrison, who expects many of Intermountain’s operations to remain the same, will continue to serve as president and CEO, while Leavitt has taken over as chair of the integrated board.
Harrison expects the integrated system to continue investing in digital and telehealth services, increasing the accessibility of care while working with the federal government to reduce costs. He also said he was excited for the Intermountain entities to learn from their new partners, specifically mentioning how SCL Health ran their day surgery centers and how they interacted with rural communities.
“It’s a very capable group,” he added. “And it’s not a one-sided deal, in that they’re only joining us because we know things that they don’t know, but we’re really excited to have them join us because they’re very good. in certain things that will benefit the Utahns.
He reiterated that he does not expect Intermountain to cut any of its 59,000 employees, who work in its combined 33 hospitals and 385 clinics.
SCL Health is a Catholic-affiliated system and oversaw a mix of secular and faith-based entities, Harrison said, with the latter operating under religious guidelines that prohibited them from providing contraceptives, performing surgeries to prevent or terminate to pregnancy, or to perform in vitro fertilization. These entities will remain Catholic in name and practice. However, all original Intermountain installations will continue as secular units.
“Intermountain has just embraced us by continuing to maintain our catholicity,” Lydia Jumonville, CEO of SCL Health, said in September. “We will follow all Catholic guidelines and [Ethical and Religious Directives]and all the values of Catholic hospitals will be there.
Intermountain Healthcare also has religious roots and began as a system of 15 hospitals that was donated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the communities they served. Intermountain administers the non-profit organization while its board of directors represents the interests of the community.
Harrison asked that the public also oversee the growth of community assets in future years.
“Our neighbors here in Utah, please watch us carefully as we continue to focus on improving our communities,” he said.
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