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Pardee, Blue Ridge clinics to broaden cooperation

Pardee Hospital and Blue Ridge Community Health Services are exploring a broad cooperation that could include co-locating clinics and other services, combining some administrative functions and support services and broadening health care access, both providers said in a news release.

"Pardee is committed to exploring innovative ways to deliver the highest quality of patient care," Jay Kirby, president and CEO of Pardee, said in a news release. "This agreement allows two extraordinary organizations with shared missions to explore ways to address the existing and future needs of Western NC while avoiding duplication of services and conserving precious health care resources."
The news that the two publicly owned health care providers are looking at broad cooperation is the latest in an accelerating response by Pardee to get ahead of the dramatic change coming in health care delivery. The Pardee-BRCHS agreement comes after Pardee has strengthened its affiliation with UNC Health Care, negotiated a governance change with the Henderson County Board of Commissioners to increase its independence, invested in a new joint health care campus in Fletcher with Mission Health of Asheville and joined with the YMCA of Western North Carolina to add a YMCA branch at the Fletcher joint campus.

The Pardee-Blue Ridge collaboration opens the possibility that the county-owned hospital could stamp its brand on new clinics or, as was announced earlier this week, Blue Ridge move into Pardee space and provide health care service.
"Our board was very clear in its strategic plan that it wanted Pardee to lead the transformation of health care in the communities we serve," Kirby said, "and you can't have a transformation without doing things in a different manner."
Jennifer Henderson, the CEO of BRCHS, said the memorandum of agreement would formalize talks that have been under way for more than a year and led to the co-location of Pardee lab and X-ray facility at BRCHS and the new agreement announced Wednesday to move Pardee's Hendersonville Family Health Center under BRCHS's umbrella of clinics.
"We will explore more formal relationship of referrals all the way to integration strategies, co-locating our services and exploring ways to continue to co-locate or establish new practice sites," Henderson said. The two providers could look at combining some administrative functions or other support tools such as IT, she said. "Anything basically is on the table," she said. What's not on the table is Pardee acquiring Blue Ridge, she said, because that would jeopardize the clinic's federal funding. Under federal law, BRCHS must be led by a board with a majority made up of clinic patients.
Both Henderson and Kirby said hospitals are cooperating with clinics that provide health care to underserved patients — called Federally Qualified Health Centers — all over the country.
"There are FQHC partnerships with hospitals all over," Henderson said.
Kirby said that UNC Health Care CEO Gary Park had told him that UNC has a close working relationship with the FQHC in the Chapel Hill area.
"They're an increasingly vital part of the health care delivery system in any community," Kirby said.
One way Pardee could benefit financially from a Blue Ridge partnership is by moving some services from non-paying to paying and some low-paying procedures or visits from low-paying to higher paying, officials with both agencies said. That's because FQHCs can get reimbursement from the U.S. government for some kinds of services where Pardee does not, or higher payments than Pardee would get. In exchange, the clinic must treat all comers who walk in.
The talks that led to the Pardee's ceding the Family Health Center to Blue Ridge was so positive, Henderson and Kirby said, that the two providers agreed to further explore collaboration and coordination.
"At the conclusion we both said, Why stop here, let's continue to look at ways to work together," he said. "That's what's happened."
Henderson said in a news statement that cooperation is the best way to ensure greater access and better care.
"In the changing health reform environment, it is going to be a challenge to provide accessible and affordable care for patients, particularly the underserved who will now be seeking greater access to care," she said. "We will be able to do more to improve the health of our community together than either organization could do alone. Both organizations are committed to the principle of partnering to enhance access and quality of care."
Kirby said strength in numbers goes back to a simple rule that survives despite all the change in health care.
"With all the uncertainty going on in Raleigh and Washington, I learned in elementary school, when you cross the street, hold hands," he said. "Now is as good a time as any to hold hands."