UAMS, St. Vincent Sign Deal to Explore Collaboration

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and St. Vincent Health System said Thursday that they have entered into "a nonbinding letter of intent to explore opportunities for an affiliation to deliver collaborative and or integrated services."

The two said they have been in discussion "for the last several weeks," "exploring various affiliation opportunities." They said the letter of intent will allow each to share proprietary information with the other as they consider their options.

On Thursday, St. Vincent CEO Peter Banko told that over the next couple of months, officials from the state-owned UAMS and St. Vincent, which is operated by Catholic Health Initiatives, will "look what we could do together and what we couldn't do together."

"From my view, everything needs to be on the table," he said.

Banko said that by working together, both sides can improve access to care, improve quality and reduce duplication of services.

"There are too many open heart surgery programs in central Arkansas," he said, citing an example. "I think there's opportunity to enhance research and education."

Leslie Welch Taylor, a spokeswoman for UAMS, said UAMS informed Gov. Mike Beebe's office that it was having discussions with St. Vincent, but that there's no partnership plan on his desk.

Stacey Hall, a spokeswoman for the governor's office, said it's too early to know if gubernatorial approval for a UAMS-St. Vincent partnership will be required.

"It's going to depend on the details," she said. "We don't have quite enough information yet."


Banko said the next step is for both entities to hire a consultant, Deloitte Consulting to examine areas where two could partner. A contract with Deloitte, which would cost at least $1 million, is pending and will require approval by the Legislative Council.

According to a preliminary version of the UAMS-St. Vincent contract with Deloitte, the firm will spend about 11 weeks looking at areas where "combination efficiencies" might be achieved: administration, clinical support services, information technology and "selected clinical service lines," including cardiovascular services and oncology.

In a joint news release, UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn cited numerous challenges the two health care organizations face, including an aging population, a shortage of health care workers and "the uncertain impact of health care reform."

"If we are to meet those challenges, we must continue to develop and expand strategic affiliations with other health care organizations that share our vision and values to bring our strengths together to improve outcomes and efficiency in our services and expand training opportunities," he said in the news release. "We are excited about the opportunities a possible affiliation with St. Vincent could bring."

Thursday's statement provided few details. But the health care systems said an affiliation could lead to expanded research opportunities; increased training and education for doctors, nurses and staff; and "the ability to attract world-class physicians, nurses and health care professionals to the state."

The announcement came a day after UAMS and St. Vincent acknowledged, in short news release, that they were in talks. It noted that "any affiliation that is pursued will preserve UAMS' public identity and St. Vincent's Catholic identity including women's and reproductive health care services."

"We want to protect the public identity of UAMS and the Catholic identity of St. Vincent," Banko said Thursday.

Getting Serious

Banko said that he and Rahn have known each other for a couple of years and have informally talked about collaborating.

"We got to talking and thought it was a good idea to get a little more serious about it," Banko said.

Part of what sparked discussion was health care reform, which is driving hospitals and physicians to be more effective and efficient.

But what also drove the two sides to begin talks is, "we're neighbors and we need to find ways to collaborate," Banko said.

Banko said there's no deadline on when something might be announced.

On Monday, Banko told Arkansas Business that the health system was talking with hospitals and physician groups about joining St. Vincent.

Banko declined to say which groups he was talking with. He said, "we'll see some partnerships ... emerge" within the next year or two.

UAMS has more than 10,000 employees who provide care at the main hospital and at Arkansas Children's Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS' Area Health Education Centers across the state. The school has 2,800 students and 775 medical residents.

St. Vincent has affiliations with more than 650 doctors. It has a 615-bed hospital in Little Rock, hospitals in Sherwood and Morrilton, and an outpatient center in west Little Rock.