GRAND HAVEN — North Ottawa Community Health System and Mercy Health plan to work together under a new strategic alliance that executives say holds benefits for both health systems.
Under the alliance approved by the boards at both health systems, Mercy Health would get a larger presence in the attractive northern Ottawa County market. North Ottawa would get greater access to more medical specialists from Mercy Health physicians.
The strategic alliance would pave the way as well for the better coordination of care and smoother patient referrals and transfers between North Ottawa in Grand Haven and Mercy Health facilities in Muskegon and Grand Rapids.
The arrangement builds on past collaborations between North Ottawa and Mercy Health, which frequently share patients between Grand Haven and Muskegon, particularly those who live in one community and work in the other.
“This is where our population migrates,” said North Ottawa President and CEO Shelleye Yaklin. “It allows us the formality of how our patients already seek care between our two areas. We want to be able to work more closely together to determine better ways to ensure that patients, especially in the greater Grand Haven area, have access to specialists, have improved access to primary care physicians, and possible access to additional service lines — whatever that may be necessary to meet the community’s needs.”
Mercy Health already serves a “great number” of patients from northern Ottawa County and the two health systems already share patient electronic medical records and collaborate on a primary care facility on Spring Lake, said Mary Boyd, executive vice president of regional operations at Mercy Health.
The strategic alliance “enhances the normal and existing patterns that exist in how patients seek their care,” Boyd said.
“We don’t want them to feel as though they exited one organization and entered another. We want it to be about the condition that’s getting treated, not about where they’re getting treated,” she said. “We’re enhancing processes of communication and care management that will allow patients to receive care closest to home, and when they do need to leave the community it will be with a partner that will really coordinate that care.”
Neurosciences and cardiology are two medical specialties that Mercy Health could soon begin offering in the Grand Haven area under a strategic affiliation with North Ottawa. The Grand Haven health system also could become part of Affinia Health, Mercy Health’s physician network that consists of 70 primary care physicians and more than 125 specialty care doctors.
The strategic alliance comes just a day after Health Pointe Inc., a joint venture between Spectrum Health and Holland Hospital, received zoning approval for a $50 million medical campus in Grand Haven Township, about two miles from the 81-bed North Ottawa Community Hospital.
While Health Pointe poses a significant competitive threat and did lead to accelerated discussions in recent months, talks between North Ottawa and Mercy Health about forging closer ties were progressing well before the project was proposed last fall, Yaklin said.
“It’s not reactive at all,” she said. “We’ve been working on this a long time.”
Entering into a strategic alliance with Mercy Health does not affect North Ottawa’s position as an independent health system and “all of the decision-making still happens at our respective organizations,” Yaklin said.
Neither will it affect North Ottawa’s existing patient referral patterns. If patients wish to go to Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids for specialty care, North Ottawa will continue to refer them, Yaklin said.
“We really do want to honor patient choice,” she said.