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Tuesday, November 19, 2013 - 6:00am

Mayo Clinic May Increase Georgia Presence

Mayo Clinic’s recently announced collaboration with a Columbus hospital may signal other Georgia ventures for the renowned Minnesota-based health system.

St. Francis hospital becomes the first Georgia organization to join the Mayo Clinic Care Network. Under the agreement, its physicians will be able to connect with Mayo specialists on questions of complex care using an electronic consulting technique. Mayo will supply other informational tools as well.

Last year, Mayo Clinic acquired a health system in Waycross that included a hospital and two nursing homes. But future Mayo alliances in the South won’t be ownership deals but will be more like the St. Francis agreement, Mayo Clinic spokesman Kevin Punsky told GHN last week.

“We’re looking at a number of hospitals in Georgia and the Southeast,’’ Punsky said. Mayo Clinic already has a main campus in Jacksonville, Fla., roughly 80 miles from Waycross.

All across Georgia and the nation, hospitals are scrambling to forge alliances to survive the rapid changes shaking the health care business.

Hospitals are dealing with federal funding cuts, health care reform and overall uncertainty over reimbursements, said Rich D’Amaro of Subsidium Healthcare, an Atlanta-based consulting firm.

The massive structural changes “are causing hospitals to have heartache and angst,’’ he said.

Still, D’Amaro said, “There needs to be a strategic reason for consolidation.”

Partnerships “may make more sense’’ than mergers for many hospitals, he added.

Earlier this month, Albany-based Phoebe Putney Health System, a dominant player in southwest Georgia, struck a partnership with an affiliate of Pennsylvania-based health system Geisinger to improve quality of care and reduce costs.

D’Amaro said famed health systems such as Mayo Clinic, Geisinger and Ohio-based Cleveland Clinic “have brand and have clinical expertise, and they believe they can export that to markets that need that and need the ‘halo effect.’ ’’

St. Francis, a 376-bed nonprofit facility, will pay Mayo Clinic a fee for the specialized services provided. Doctors will have 24/7 access to Mayo-vetted medical information and guidelines through a Web-based resource created for physicians and other providers. The hospital will also gain clinical and business consulting services.

“St. Francis is proud to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network member,” Robert Granger, president and CEO of St. Francis, said in a statement. “As part of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, our physicians will be able to reach out to Mayo Clinic specialists as they consider the care needs for their patients.”

Beyond its world-renowned medical complex in Rochester, Minn., and campuses in Arizona and Jacksonville, Mayo has a network of clinics and hospitals serving more than 70 communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Dr. Stephen Lange, Southeast medical director of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, said in a statement, “We look forward to working closely with St. Francis to help them continue to provide the highest quality of care and best possible outcomes for their patients.”

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