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Advocate Aurora Health co-CEOs on the next steps for the newly combined system

In April, Downers Grove, Ill.-based Advocate Health Care and Milwaukee-based Aurora Health merged to become the nation's 10th largest nonprofit health system.

The newly named Advocate Aurora Health, which comprises more than 70,000 employees, 27 hospitals and more than 500 care sites, has annual revenues of approximately $11 billion and serves nearly 3 million patients each year in Illinois and Wisconsin.

While the health systems have become a bigger combined organization, the merger is about more than size, according to Advocate Aurora Health co-CEOs Jim Skogsbergh and Nick Turkal, MD. They say it's about working together as a larger organization to improve access to care and serve patients in the best way possible.

Here, Dr. Turkal and Mr. Skogsbergh answered emailed questions from Becker's Hospital Review about the merger, including how the transaction came about and what's next.

Question: How did the merger come about? What prompted the discussions?

Jim Skogsbergh: We're seeing dramatic change across the healthcare landscape. We want to lead that change so we can shape our own future and best care for our communities. The merger was driven by a firm belief that we'll be able to accomplish more together and deliver on the promise of value for the people who receive, provide and pay for healthcare.

Nick Turkal: Our combined size and strength gives us a platform to scale innovation, which is exactly what we need to do in the healthcare industry to improve the consumer experience, achieve better outcomes and lower costs.

Q: What does the merger entail?

NT: This is the coming together of two of the nation's leading healthcare providers. Our new executive leadership team and board of directors are officially in place, overseeing and identifying ways to improve operations across our more than 500 sites of care. Our functional team leaders are in full integration mode to capitalize on new opportunities and work more efficiently to best meet our patients' and communities' needs.

JS: We're making sure that the healthcare consumer is at the center of everything we do. We're excited to bring together our leading clinical research institutes and accelerate new findings to the bedside, expand access to world-class specialty care — which we've already begun with plans to invest in Racine County, to improve our digital platforms and expand telehealth to make the care experience more convenient. This isn't just about leveraging the 'best of' each health system; we want to create a new model and redefine the way people have traditionally thought about healthcare.
Q: What are the ultimate goals with the merger?

NT: Joining forces isn't just about being bigger; it's about how being bigger will make us better for the people and communities that count on us. Right now, we're primarily focused on two areas: First and foremost, growth and innovation — making sure we are where people need us, when they need us and how they need us. At the same time, we're looking at cost savings — working more efficiently so we can lower the costs of care and reinvest in innovation to improve outcomes and access for those we serve.

JS: How do we do that? By scaling our population health efforts, we can save tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars annually by getting people healthier. By bringing together the best minds in cardiology, oncology, pediatrics and neurosciences and making sure our doctors are positioned to learn from each other and our patients have access to the best, evidence-based care. On the cost side, our new scale offers so many opportunities from supply chain to health IT and beyond. 

Q: What does the merger mean for both systems?

NT: We view the world through the same lens; that's why we’re so confident that we'll be more effective as one system. Together, we can accelerate our laser focus on safety, health outcomes and service while delivering value to our stakeholders.

JS: We're creating a health care destination to attract the best minds in medicine, expand access to world-class care, cultivate partnerships and change the way the healthcare consumer thinks about their experience. Our core metrics relating to safety, outcomes, service and financial performance will indicate success, and achieving that success will depend on our ability to realize cost savings and growth, leverage scale to innovate and ultimately improve health outcomes for those we serve.

Q: How will the merger affect staff at both systems and patient access?

JS: We're out to create a best-in-class health system powered by the collective talent of our 70,000 team members, physicians and nurses. We have a great opportunity to grow jobs in Wisconsin and Illinois. What we're really excited about is the expanded scope of our combined organization. We're offering new opportunities and diverse experiences and more career path options that will attract top talent, making us a destination employer for world-class care providers.

NT: Our patients will continue to receive the same great care close to home. Caring for our communities is at the core of who are, and that's something that won't change, regardless of our size. But now we have a much bigger platform to scale innovation, which will benefit our patients and communities through lower costs, a better consumer experience and improved outcomes. It's not just about bricks and mortar. We can expand access through advancements in digital access and telehealth, too. While we're now the 10th largest health system in the country, we're committed to remaining locally present.

Q: What are the next steps?

JS: We don't plan to sit still. We're moving on to the next phase of our integration, long-term designs and plans are being formally evaluated and the real work of transforming care is getting underway. We have two dozen functional teams meeting regularly to ensure we're mapping out a better future for our patients and taking every opportunity to create impact.

NT: Looking to the horizon, our competitors today will not be the same competitors tomorrow and likewise, our partners today will not necessarily be the same partners tomorrow. Just see what Amazon, CVS and Walmart are doing. What we know — and what their participation in this market signals — is that the status quo isn't working. Care is still too expensive and inefficient for too many people. That's why we're committed to reimagining health, reshaping the delivery model and transforming care in a way that adds the most value for our patients and communities.


More articles on transactions and valuations:
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Kaiser, Emory Healthcare to partner: 4 things to know




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