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How University Hospitals, Lake Health plan to enhance services in Lake County

Lake Health officially joined University Hospitals April 16 through membership substitution, and integration initiatives are in full swing more than a month later to benefit patients and community members. 

The three-hospital system based in Concord, Ohio, and Cleveland-based University Hospitals announced their intent to affiliate in December 2020.  

Under the affiliation, Lake Health adds more than 3,000 caregivers and 600 physicians to University Hospitals and Lake Health will be University Hospitals' flagship Lake County healthcare provider.

Paul Tait, University Hospitals chief strategic officer, and Rick Cicero, senior vice president of business development at Lake Health, told Becker's Hospital Review they are excited about the affiliation and what it means as far as care access and improving people's health. They discussed the reasoning behind the affiliation, as well as their goals and what the integration entails. 

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited.

Question: What prompted the affiliation? 

Paul Tait: The No. 1 reason this affiliation was attractive to University Hospitals is the opportunity to enhance services for patients in Lake County and surrounding areas that are part of Lake Health's market. University Hospitals and Lake Health have had a long history of collaborating on various service lines. For example, we had a joint venture cancer center we worked together on for years. But we thought with this new, stronger affiliation we would be able to do more service enhancement for patients. 

Rick Cicero: We started this whole process in early 2020, before COVID-19. We knew we wanted to look for a partner. We wanted a like-minded partner that shared our long-term vision. We went through the normal process any health system would do to look for an appropriate partner. It became very evident to us that we had like cultures. We had the same vision for this market. As a community health system, we really have partnered with our community since we've been here. It was critically important whoever we chose to work with had that same vision and same belief. And UH does and always have had that. 

Q: What does the affiliation mean for both organizations in terms of operations and strategy? 

PT: We're going to be investing more resources in the Lake County market. Our philosophy when a health system joins University Hospitals is to invest in enhancing local care. It'll be more resources in terms of a number of things. It'll be more physician recruitment to strengthen Lake Health. It'll be financial investments to improve facilities, to improve service lines. New equipment, new technology. 

We've made a multiyear commitment to Lake Health that we want to invest in their health system and their local community. That's very consistent with how we've approached other transactions we've done. We have a history of always investing in local healthcare. We think the best kind of healthcare is over 90 percent of the time provided locally — maybe even 95 percent of the time.

RC: This focus on expanding access to specialty services is key to our community. Being part of UH, we bring the history of University Hospitals and the breadth of services they have, to help supplement what we're providing today and what we can grow to provide. Not only is it what we provide in the community but being part of a larger system creates that seamless referral path for those services that need to be provided at an academic medical center. Being part of that one system, it takes any chunkiness or clumsiness out of that process and creates a seamless process for the patient, for our community, while enhancing the services that are provided here in our community.

Q: What are your goals with the affiliation? 

RC: We're both lower cost, high-quality providers, and by coming together and joining UH, we will be able to create that in a regional fashion. To offer not only to employers and residents of our community, but also in the greater Cleveland community, really provides a different option that's focused on value and really to help employers control their own cost and help keep employees healthy.

PT: Both UH and Lake Health have been leaders in population health management, and we both have clinically integrated networks. We both have focused on improving outcomes and reducing cost. At UH, we have a long history of accountable care organizations. Lake Health has done some exceptional things with their primary care practices. We're both focused on delivering more value for the ultimate purchasers of healthcare. 

Q: What does the integration process include and what is the timeline? 

PT: We have around 30 different integration initiatives. Some of those are related to service line enhancement. An example of that is we're going to look to see how we can improve trauma care locally for Lake. Some of those integration initiatives relate to technology where there's technology UH has that can probably benefit Lake. Some of those integration initiatives relate to systems integration where we will be working to integrate information technology systems, including eventually having Lake Health and University Hospitals on the same electronic health record. And some of those relate to other business processes that are natural when you have integration of two organizations. 

RC: We have representatives from UH and Lake Health on every one of these integration initiatives, so we've got input from both organizations. And it's true input and it's a real discussion. At least from our standpoint, there's nothing dictated. It's a good conversation, and everybody's focused on what's best for the community, what's best for the patient. That's what driving every decision we're making right now as we're starting to integrate. We're only a little more than a month in, but we're making a lot of progress. I think the two organizations working together probably has been one of our biggest successes so far. 

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