SeHealth to seek partner in health-care quest

via The Robesonian 

LUMBERTON — Southeastern Health, the major health care provider for Robeson County and much of the surrounding area, is looking for a partner so that is remains healthy and viable to better meet the needs of the region in a changing and more competitive industry.

Kenneth Rust, the chairman of Southeastern Health’s board of trustees, emphasized that it is healthy and will enter the search from a “position of strength.”

“It’s no secret that health care has and will continue to experience dynamic, unprecedented change,” Rust said in a statement. “At the same time, we serve a unique population with growing health-care needs. Since our inception 65 years ago, Southeastern Health has grown to best serve the needs of this community, and we believe now is the time to explore growth again to ensure we’re best positioned to care for our neighbors for the next 65 years and beyond.”

Rust said that any partner would have to meet four criteria: be a cultural and mission fit; understand rural health care; understand the population’s health; and provide access to capital.

“It’s important that any potential partner honor our mission and share our commitment to delivering a superior experience for our patients and their families,” Rust said. “We’re also looking for an organization that understands the unique challenges and opportunities of delivering health care in rural communities and that maintains the resources and best practices necessary to keep our residents healthy.”

Southeastern Health officials informed its employees, who number about 2,600, of the decision Tuesday morning in a mass email.

According to the statement, the decision comes as “ health systems across the country have to do more with less as a result of changing reimbursement models and tightened federal and state budgets.” It points out that in North Carolina at least 70 percent of patients are on Medicare, Medicaid or are uninsured, which hit hardest rural health-care providers. Robeson County is one of the poorest counties not only in North Carolina, but the country.

“Our ability to remain independent is a testament to our quality care, strong financial position, and longstanding commitment to the communities we serve,” said Joann Anderson, president and CEO of Southeastern Health since 2007. “We’re working to ensure Southeastern Health remains a vibrant community health system with access to high-quality, compassionate care for generations to come.”

Southeastern will work with consultants in its search, but also expects to field inquiries, especially after the public announcement.

“A formal exploration process is the natural next step for us,” Rust said. “We’ve been successful in the past when we’ve partnered with organizations that share our values. In pursuing partnerships, we want to have wisdom as we consider next steps.”

The decision continues a strategy by Southeastern Health to align with partners to meet local health-care needs. More than a decade ago, the health system forged a collaboration with Duke Health to open Southeastern Health Heart and Vascular, which is managed by Duke Health. Three years ago, Southeastern Health partnered with Atrium Health on an agreement that enablesthe health system to maximize its purchasing power for supplies and pharmaceuticals at lower costs. In 2013, Southeastern Health partnered with Campbell University’s Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine to develop “community-minded physicians.”

The board has launched a website, www.sehealthforward.org, to keep the community informed during the exploration process. It includes frequently asked questions and the answers, and the option for updates.

“We are committed to being open and transparent throughout this process,” Rust said. “We will share appropriate updates as they become available and appreciate everyone’s support as we move forward.”

Rust and Anderson pointed out that in the interim, the business of providing health care continues as normal.

“Our No. 1 priority remains providing exceptional care to the communities that count on us,” Anderson said. “You can be assured our patients will continue to receive the same high-quality care from our providers, nurses and other caregivers. Our day-to-day operations are not changing for our patients, employees or community. Our commitment is unwavering.”

Southeastern Health is a nonprofit that is licensed for 452 beds and includes Southeastern Regional Medical Center, which offers a combination of acute care, intensive care and psychiatric services to more than 15,000 inpatients and 61,000 emergency patients annually. It has 146 employed physicians and advanced practice providers, and 230 contract physicians and advanced practice providers.

Southeastern Health’s history dates back to the merger in 1946 of Thompson Hospital and the Baker Sanatorium to form Baker-Thompson Memorial Hospital.

In 1953, a 140-bed hospital was constructed and was called Robeson County Memorial Hospital. In 1960, in order to better reflect its growth, it became known as Southeastern General Hospital, and on Jan. 1, 1994, the name changed again, this time to Southeastern Regional Medical Center.

It became Southeastern Health on Jan. 1, 2013, to underscore that its services extended far beyond the medical center.