The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 30, 2013

Hospital looking for partnership

WINDBER — Leaders at Windber Medical Center are positioning the hospital for the future – a future that may include another health system’s name on the Somerset Avenue signs.

The hospital board and administration are looking for a “strategic relationship,” board Chairman David Klementik and hospital President and CEO Barbara Cliff wrote in a letter distributed to employees this week.

“While our hopes are to remain as independent as possible, we believe that we can be stronger with some type of partnership,” the letter continues.

“It is unknown what that will look like as we are early in the process, but we wanted to let you know that it is actively

being considered.”

Teaming up with a larger organization is becoming a necessity for small hospitals, Cliff said.

“We are looking at the future of Windber Medical Center, but we see the future as bright,” Cliff said Tuesday at her office. “We are looking at how we can position ourselves as a small independent hospital. We are always looking at how to best maximize our strengths and position ourselves on weaknesses.”

Cliff and Klementik each said Windber’s exploration of collaborations is not unique.

“I would estimate approximately 100 percent of hospitals in Pennsylvania are talking to others,” Cliff said.

Klementik pointed to Monday’s news that Highmark Inc. received conditional approval to take over the financially troubled West Penn Allegheny Health System, putting the combined organization in position to better compete with UPMC, western Pennsylvania’s dominant network.

“To the extent that those two insurance companies (Highmark and UPMC) provide substantial nongovernment compensation for us, we don’t want to be left out in the cold,” Klementik said at Windber Research Institute.

“As they develop networks of favored providers, we would like to be part of that.”

There have been no decisions on which network or system will be the best fit, or even what the “strategic relationship” will entail, Klementik stressed.

“We are looking at all opportunities to develop clinical relationships, financial relationships and accountable care relationships,” he said.

Accountable care organizations, envisioned under the federal Affordable Care Act, include various hospitals and doctors who collectively accept responsibility for large populations and are paid on a per-patient basis rather than a per-procedure basis, Klementik said.

It does not have to be an acquisition, merger or traditional affiliation, he stressed.

“The sign from Highmark is that they still believe in community hospitals,” Klementik said. “They are only looking for referrals (to West Penn Allegheny).”

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