Baptist Health South Florida to explore partnerships with Bethesda Health in Palm Beach County

Baptist Health South Florida, the largest hospital system in the region, has begun talks with Bethesda Health, a hospital network in Palm Beach County, to explore potential partnerships and affiliations up to and including a merger, according to executives of the two not-for-profit healthcare groups.

Talks between the two hospital systems have just started, and they’re motivated by changes in the industry — many brought about by the Affordable Care Act — that will reward those healthcare groups that can most effectively treat patients across different settings, from primary-care physicians to specialists, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and medical homes.

“Looking forward, we believe that there will be a lot of consolidation in the industry,’’ said Roger Kirk, chief executive of Bethesda Health, which is headquartered in Boynton Beach and operates two hospitals, a physician’s group and other healthcare facilities.

“We think there’s strength in numbers,’’ he said, “and being a larger player, not only in our community but throughout’’ South Florida.

While no formal agreements have been announced, Wayne Brackin, chief operating officer for Baptist Health, said he sees opportunities for the two hospital systems to partner on medical centers of excellence and certain clinical specialties.

Baptist Health, which includes six hospitals in Miami-Dade and one in Monroe County, already operates outpatient and urgent care centers in Broward County. Palm Beach is a natural extension, Brackin said.

“Both Bethesda and Baptist Health are interested in expansion of outpatient opportunities in the Palm Beach areas, as well as the northern part of Broward,’’ he said, “and Bethesda Health, with its strong and significant medical staff, would really give some foundation to an expansion of an outpatient strategy.’’

Before any formal partnership is reached, however, executives from both healthcare groups first will pore over each other’s clinical programs, operational strategies and financial records.

“A total opening of the books,’’ Kirk said.

Baptist and Bethesda already share some similarities. Both are not-for-profit institutions, and they use the same electronic medical records systems — a key part of integrated healthcare that allows physicians to more easily share patient data.

But both healthcare groups are hoping for something bigger: namely, to expand their reach across a broader geographical area.

“Our position is that where we end up ultimately in the relationship is significantly in the hands of the team at Bethesda,’’ Brackin said. “But we believe that everything’s on the table.’’

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