On Monday, West Georgia Health and WellStar Health System officials signed the final documents that cement their partnership, with the merger set to become official on April 1. On that day, West Georgia Health will become WellStar West Georgia Medical Center.
To answer questions that still may be lingering in our community about this partnership, West Georgia Health President and CEO Jerry Fulks and WellStar President and CEO Candice Saunders provided the following insight:
Q: Why did West Georgia Health choose to seek a strategic partnership with a larger health system?
Fulks: For the past few years, the healthcare industry has been going through a period of substantial transition. With ever-changing government regulations and reimbursements, health systems across the country have been looking for new efficiencies that will allow for improved access to healthcare, lower cost and higher quality.
Like many of our peer health systems around the country, we were facing these same challenges a couple of years ago. That prompted us to begin searching for a strategic partner who first and foremost shared our mission, vision and values, but also possessed the breadth and experience in providing high-quality clinical programs and best-in-class experiences for its patients. We also concluded that we should align with an organization that is financially strong enough to help fund capital investments that will be necessary for the continued provision of state-of-the-art technology for our community.
We took a very deliberate and methodical approach to identifying the best possible partner for our health system and community, and we believe that WellStar is an excellent fit on all points of consideration. We are excited about the opportunity to join with them in their vision of delivering world-class healthcare to the communities we serve and look forward to officially joining WellStar in the very near future.
Q: What are the benefits to the Troup County community?
Fulks: Troup County and the surrounding West Georgia community will benefit immensely from this partnership. In preparing for the attorney general’s review of the proposed partnership, West Georgia Health commissioned PYA, a healthcare consulting firm, to conduct a community benefit analysis. Their findings determined that the partnership would benefit West Georgia Health’s ability to manage costs through shared resources, physician recruitment, new service development and enhanced clinical services by drawing from WellStar’s expertise in clinical and operational efficiencies.
In addition, WellStar has committed to investing $84 million in capital improvements over seven years, with $30 million to be allocated within the first two years of the partnership. Through this capital commitment and the generosity of hundreds of West Georgia Health Foundation donors, we expect to begin renovating and upgrading our new community cancer center.
Q: What are the benefits to WellStar?
Saunders: As not-for-profits, WellStar and West Georgia Health have similar missions and commitments to our communities. By bringing WGH into the regional system, WellStar is continuing its commitment to deliver world-class healthcare to the communities it serves. WellStar has been very impressed with the level of care delivered by the entire WGH team. While WellStar has a lot to bring to WGH, WellStar looks forward to learning from some of the wonderful things WGH is already doing for its community.
Q: What change, if any, will patients see in the service and care they receive with West Georgia Health?
Fulks: Our West Georgia Health team members are constantly working on ways to improve the ways we deliver care. While we continue to earn national recognitions for the safe, high-quality care we offer our patients, we look forward to tapping into WellStar’s clinical and operational expertise to help us achieve even higher benchmarks in the months and years to come.
One immediate benefit that West Georgia Health will realize in joining WellStar is becoming a part of the Mayo Clinic Care Network. This relationship will allow our West Georgia Health Physicians group to consult with a Mayo physician, allowing local patients to have access to the Mayo Clinic’s expertise in all specialties while continuing to receive their care close to home. Our healthcare providers also will have round-the-clock access to Mayo-vetted medical information and guidelines through AskMayoExpert, a web-based provider resource.
Q: What will change about how West Georgia Health does business?
Fulks: When the partnership becomes official, we expect West Georgia Health’s operations to continue in accord with our mission of providing high-quality care to our community. It will be “business as usual” for the first several months so the combined team leaders will have the opportunity to evaluate operations and determine how to proceed toward operating more efficiently and effectively. Not only do we expect to continue offering all of our core clinical services, but also we are excited to perhaps have the opportunity to add new clinical services for the benefit of our community.
Q: What’s on the horizon for West Georgia Health? Any advancements, improvements or additions you’d like to mention?
Fulks: Elaborating on the new Community Cancer Center, West Georgia Health will be able to bring all of its cancer services under one roof. With the recent addition of radiation oncologist Dr. Robert Taylor to the team, we are now offering state-of-the-art stereotactic radiosurgery and stereotactic ablative surgery radiation therapies. In addition, we will continue to offer infusion therapy, immunotherapy, genetics counseling, advanced diagnostic technologies and a multidisciplinary cancer committee to evaluate each new case and determine the optimum treatment plan customized for each patient.
Q: How will funds raised through the West Georgia Health Foundation be used?
Saunders: After the partnership between West Georgia Health and WellStar becomes official, the West Georgia Health Foundation will remain a separate entity. Funds raised through our Foundation for projects benefiting our local health system will be earmarked as such and support the designated projects. West Georgia Hospice will become a part of WellStar, however we would like to note that funds raised by the Hospice Advisory Committee through events such as the Ely Callaway Golf Event will remain a part of the West Georgia Health Foundation and will benefit West Georgia Hospice patients and programs.
This Q&A was conducted by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce and reprinted with permission.