Five Arkansas Health Organizations Form Partnership

Five Arkansas Health Organizations Form Partnership

Five Arkansas health-related organizations announced Thursday that they have formed The Partnership for a Healthy Arkansas, a shared services organization they say will improve health care quality and lower costs. 

The founding members of the partnership are: Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Baptist Health and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, all in Little Rock, St. Bernards Healthcare in Jonesboro and Washington Regional Medical System in Fayetteville.

The participants emphasized that the new venture will not include a merger among any of its founders.

"It’s not a merger of the partners," UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn said. "Each of the members of the organization obtains their identities. We provide all of our services as UAMS. We may work together to improve efficiency of the operations." 

Rahn told Arkansas Business the goals of the partnership are to work collaboratively, reduce costs and improve quality. He said improving quality will lead to lower prices.

"By adopting patient care management protocols across the whole care continuum, that will improve quality. Improving quality reduces cost," he said. "By working together we can reduce expenses in some kind of back-office function — food services, laundry services, sharing expensive equipment, offsite backup of IT system."

According to Rahn, UAMS already works with the other four organizations in some capacity and this shared services organization is a way to formalize those partnerships. Last year, UAMS and Baptist announced a plan to collaborate on a new 24-hour, seven-day-a-week vascular care and surgery service at Baptist's Little Rock health center.

Rahn said he thinks other organizations might create similar models and partnerships. 

"Our organizations share a common commitment to deliver the best health care and health value to Arkansas citizens," Washington Regional Medical System President and CEO Bill Bradley said in a news release. 

Bradley was elected chairman of the group. Chris Barber, president and CEO of St. Bernards, was elected vice chairman.

"Because all members of this collaboration are headquartered in Arkansas and we are all rooted in a not-for-profit mission, we share a synergy and a focus on improving the financing and delivery of health care to Arkansans, resulting in better health care for all," Bradley said.

The partnership said shared services organizations are becoming "a way for health systems to lower costs and improve performance while remaining independent and community focused." But it said having Arkansas Blue Cross participate is unique among such organizations nationwide.

Barber said the founding organizations decided on a collaboration after "extensive discussions on how best to improve health care for Arkansans." He said the arrangement will allow the individual organizations can focus on community needs and learn best practices from each other.

Ray Hanley, president and CEO of the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, is supportive of the collaboration between an insurance company and health care providers. He said that they are "smart business people" and there is a lot of work to do if they are willing pool their resources and work together.

"Blue Cross is the dominant player in the state — they’re focused only on Arkansas," Hanley said. "I think they can bring tools and resources to the table. I think there is an inevitable affiliation between major players and major health systems. These aren’t just four hospitals and Blue Cross. This is four major health systems."

The partnership said it is evaluating ways to achieve cost savings and improve performance in operational shared services, population health shared services and clinical improvement shared services.

"I think (the organizations) will share success stories and failures about what’s worked and what hasn’t; the experiences they all bring to the table is going to help," Hanley said. "There’s plenty of work to do to try and improve." 

Examples of potential collaborative efforts include customer call centers, patient care management and coordination, and quality and financial data analysis, the partnership said.

"Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield and these four leading health systems have a common goal of ensuring Arkansas’ residents receive high quality, efficient care under new and innovative payment arrangements and insurance products," said Mark White, president and CEO of the insurance company.

The leaders of the organizations believe the outcome of the partnership will be positive.

"I’m very excited about it and excited about the future of health care in Arkansas," Rahn said. "If we work collaboratively we can improve the quality of our health care."