Portage County’s hospital is taking another step toward determining whether it will maintain an affiliation with Summa Health System or find a new partner.

Robinson Memorial Hospital on Friday announced it has hired health-care consulting firm Cain Brothers & Co. of New York City to help select the best option.

Robinson and Summa announced earlier this year that they won’t renew their current affiliation when it expires at the end of the year.

Robinson is in the process of converting from a county-owned hospital to a nonprofit. When that happens, Robinson needs to enter a new deal if it wants to continue its 6-year-old partnership with Summa.

The 117-bed community hospital will work with the health-care consultant to seek partnership proposals from several large health systems in the region and nationwide, Robinson President and Chief Executive Stephen Colecchi said. The goal is to have a deal in place by early next year, when the hospital converts to not-for-profit status.

“Clearly we believe that a hospital the size of Robinson operating as a not-for-profit would have a difficult time being successful long term, especially in a highly competitive market like Northeast Ohio,” Colecchi said.

The exact amount of the contract with Cain Brothers hasn’t been set until Robinson determines how to proceed, he said.

Any potential partnership will maintain local control of Robinson, Colecchi said. A sale of Robinson after the conversion to nonprofit would require the Portage County Commissioner’s approval.

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

Robinson intends to seek a proposal from Summa as it reviews its options, Colecchi said.

“The relationship has been mutually beneficial but our conversion to not-for-profit status gives us new partnership options to consider,” he said.

Summa spokesman Mike Bernstein said the health system continues to have “a positive relationship with Robinson.”

“We look forward to continuing our work together while at the same time also continuing to explore an appropriate business model for affiliation going forward,” he said.

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

Late last year, Portage County Commissioners approved the conversion of Robinson from a county-owned to a not-for-profit. The conversion is pending approval by the Internal Revenue Service of the hospital’s tax-exempt status.

The approval originally had been expected by July but was delayed by an IRS backlog in reviewing tax-exempt applications, Colecchi said.

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