Robinson Memorial Hospital and Summa Health System are letting their affiliation deal expire while the Portage County hospital explores its partnership options.

The joint decision — announced to employees, medical staff and others on Tuesday — comes as a result of Robinson’s ongoing conversion from a county-owned to a not-for-profit hospital, Robinson President and Chief Executive Stephen Colecchi said.

When the status change is complete later this year, Robinson would need to enter a new deal if it wants to continue its partnership with Summa, Colecchi said. The current agreement is set to expire at the end of the year, with the possibility of a one-year automatic renewal.

“Summa and Robinson mutually agreed not to allow the current agreement to automatically renew for a year,” he said. “ … We will give serious consideration to a continued affiliation with Summa.”

However, Colecchi said, the Ravenna hospital’s leadership also wants to look at all the potential scenarios, including the possibility of joining with another health system.

The community hospital is hiring a health-care consultant to help review the different partnership models available and determine potential partners, Colecchi said.

“Converting to not-for-profit status certainly gives Robinson a lot more options to become a full member of a system as opposed to an affiliated member,” he said.

Summa spokesman Mike Bernstein confirmed the decision to let the current agreement expire was mutual.

“Given the pending change in Robinson’s status from county-owned to nonprofit, it makes sense that the best course of action is to not renew the affiliation agreement while, at the same time, spending the next several months exploring a more appropriate business model for affiliation going forward,” he said. “It does not change our relationship or our commitment to our relationship.”

Robinson is Portage County’s only hospital and among the county’s largest employers, with more than 1,300 employees.

Summa and Robinson have had an affiliation agreement since 2007 that gives Summa more penetration and visibility in Portage County while providing Robinson help with group purchasing, physician recruitment and other areas.

“The relationship with Summa has been very positive to both organizations,” Colecchi said. “We intend to explore what a continued relationship with Summa would mean for Robinson and the Portage County community.”

Colecchi said the conversion to not-for-profit status is pending approval by the Internal Revenue Service of the hospital’s tax-exempt status.

The goal is to have a decision about a potential partnership by the time the hospital’s switch to not-for-profit status is effective, Colecchi said.

“If we continue in a relationship with Summa, I would anticipate that the new relationship would become effective the day of our conversion to not-for-profit,” he said.

Health-care experts are expecting nonprofit hospitals to increasingly look for merger opportunities in coming years as a way to improve efficiency, reduce waste and improve market share as the industry faces financial changes from health-care reform.

As a small community hospital, Robinson “can’t survive long-term without being part of a system,” Colecchi said.

Summa has its own ongoing partnership talks with a bigger health system. The Akron hospital system announced last week that it has selected Cincinnati-based Catholic Health Partners (CHP) to become its partner and minority owner.

Robinson officials will examine what Summa’s deal with CHP means for the Portage County hospital, Colecchi said. “Anything that strengthens Summa would be a benefit to a hospital that is affiliated with Summa.”

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or cpowell@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.