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Elliot Hospital CEO says he has no agenda on mergers

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 08. 2014 11:36PM

New Elliot Hospital CEO Jim Woodward 

MANCHESTER — In the world of hospital politics, Elliot Hospital’s incoming chief executive, Jim Woodward, has been on both sides of the hospital merger question.

During the 2000s, his Meriter Health Services hospital in Madison, Wis., flirted with the idea of closer ties to a larger health care organization attached to the University of Wisconsin. But when talks broke down, the two organizations competed aggressively against one another for several years.

Then last year, Meriter announced an affiliation with UnityPoint Health, a large, out-of-state hospital group. The result — the 448-bed Meriter — is now part of a $3.7 billion nonprofit organization with 17 hospitals and more than 280 clinics in three states.

“I’m neither pro nor con (merger),” Woodward said in an interview last week. “You have to look at the individual circumstances of the organization and what’s going on in the environment.”

Ever since the 1990s, the Greater Manchester area has been wary of hospital mergers. In 1999, a five-year merger between Elliot Hospital and its crosstown rival, Catholic Medical Center, dissolved over issues of hospital identity and abortion.

And in 2010, state officials rejected a so-called affiliation between CMC and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, saying it amounted to a takeover.

Still, Dartmouth-Hitchcock remains interested in Greater Manchester. Last year, Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Elliot said the two organizations would collaborate on ambulatory surgery, mental health, gastroenterology and endocrinology in the Manchester area.

In announcing Woodward’s hire, Elliot board Chairman Dianne Mercier said the Elliot board has no agenda for Woodward when it comes to mergers or affiliations. Woodward is expected to take six months to learn about Elliot and New Hampshire, then begin work on a strategic plan.

“He’s not coming here with a preconceived idea of what he should be doing,” Mercier said.

At Meriter, Woodward earned $855,400 in salary and other compensation for the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2012, the latest year reports are publicly available through Mercier said Tuesday that Woodward’s salary is under negotiation.

Madison is home to about 240,000 residents. It is the capital of Wisconsin and home to the state university.

The hospital battles in Madison drew much newspaper coverage, said Lisa Brunette, a spokesman for UW Health of Madison, Wis. She said two UW Health board members most familiar with the merger issues were not available for comment.

Meriter was Madison’s only independent, community hospital when Woodward joined it in 2007. He said his board told him to address the overtures from UW Health.

Woodward said discussions fell apart over two issues. Meriter was losing services such as MRIs to UW Health, and UW Health wanted its medical staff to have a monopoly at the hospital. That would end Meriter privileges for about 100 physicians, Woodward said.

“We said we would not turn our back on them,” he said.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the two organizations started building clinics close to each other’s established clinics. UW Health announced plans for a fifth hospital in Madison.

Meriter enlarged its physician-practice group, and its hospital-owned HMO started requiring some patients to use Meriter, the newspaper reported.

Simultaneously, the organizations collaborated on maternity care, fertility care and the Madison Surgery Center, the newspaper said. Woodward said one of his board members termed the relationship “coop-etition.”

By 2010, health care was changing, Woodward said. Obamacare had passed into law, executives expected accountable care organizations, and hospitals were consolidating in Chicago, Milwaukee and Minnesota.

“It was a different set of circumstances. The world had changed,” Woodward said. “We wanted to find a partner when we were strong.”

As part of the affiliation, Meriter retains its independent board. The deal provided UnityPoint an entree into Wisconsin as well as the health-insurance business. Meriter owns a majority share in Physicians Plus Insurance Corp. (PPIC), a for-profit, provider-owned health insurance plan.

But PPIC has struggled. It lost $46 million in a recent 18-month period, according to Modern Healthcare.

UnityPoint executives have said PPIC is beating projections for the current fiscal year.

Woodward said Wisconsin is one of the leaders in the country in provider-owned health plans. He said all provider-owned plans in Wisconsin are losing money, which he attributes to competitive pressures.

In New Hampshire, no such plans exist. But Elliot has partnered with Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Harvard-Pilgrim Health Care to create ElevateHealth, a health insurance plan offered to employers.

“I think it could really be a win-win for all three organizations,” Woodward said.

Woodward said Elliot is in a strong position. It has a 50 percent market share. It has a large physician network, and it has fully implemented its electronic medical record system, he said.

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