Akron General Health System long has sought a partner, one with the financial support necessary to navigate the difficult terrain of today’s health-care market. It looked at a deal with Community Health Systems, a huge national, for-profit operation, the prospect sending shudders through many in the community, uneasy about the implications for local care and leadership. When the arrangement fell apart, many sighed with relief.
One element of that deal involved a role for the Cleveland Clinic, one of the world’s leading health-care organizations. Actually, Akron General and the Cleveland Clinic have been eyeing each other for almost a decade. They appeared on the verge of a partnership in 2007. So it hardly shocked to learn on Monday that the two have reached a tentative agreement for the Clinic to acquire a minority stake in Akron General.
Dr. Tim Stover, the Akron General president and chief executive, noted that his “first thought has always been about the Cleveland Clinic.”
Stover is right about the clinical excellence, and the boost the Cleveland Clinic would bring to the financially stressed Akron General with what so far has been described as a “substantial capital investment.” This represents a far better arrangement for the Akron community than the complications that would have accompanied a for-profit hospital system.
Yet questions understandably hover around the new deal. Clearly, the Cleveland Clinic seeks to expand its footprint in Northeast Ohio. So do Summa Health System, University Hospitals and others. Stover and the Clinic leadership spoke reassuringly about local control, plus knowing and respecting strengths. At the same time, it is fair to wonder whether the Clinic will be content to remain a minority partner, and to ponder the potential fallout.
It may be all to the good. Still, one analysis points to a darker side of massive hospital systems, their leverage against insurers delivering higher reimbursement rates, pushing health-care costs higher. Those rates help the Clinic and its partners. They also risk putting financial pressure on communities, and invite new questions about how to keep costs in check.
For its part, Summa Health System has charted its own, different course, seeking to implement a broad, preventive care model, betting on shared savings over time. Practically everyone in health care talks about achieving improved quality and lowering overall costs. The test here, and elsewhere, is whether a system develops that brings the desired results.
What seems certain is that Mayor Don Plusquellic won’t see his wish fulfilled. In his recent State of the City address, he returned to the argument for Summa and Akron General combining. That unlikely prospect dimmed last year when Summa found its partner, HealthSpan of Cincinnati. It now has been extinguished with Akron General bringing the Cleveland Clinic to town.