A month after pulling out of the competition to run Jefferson Parish’s two public hospitals, Ochsner Health Systems announced Friday that it will be expanding its footprint on the north shore by signing a partnership with St. Tammany Parish Hospital in Covington.
The two organizations have signed a letter of intent to form what they called “a strategic partnership,” described in a news release as focusing on “delivering the north shore great access to quality healthcare in the most cost-effective manner.”
The hospitals would not release the letter. But at first glance, St. Tammany Parish would seem to maintain more direct control of the hospital than what was proposed in Jefferson. The parish would continue its role in the governance of the Covington hospital, which is led by a board of commissioners appointed by the Parish Council.
Warner Thomas, president and CEO of Ochsner, said in a phone interview that the two hospitals have been in talks about combining forces for nearly a year.
Although Ochsner backed out of the Jefferson Parish process, which had grown publicly contentious, the Ochsner system has for several years been expanding across the region, most recently taking over Hancock Medical Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
Thomas said the St. Tammany partnership will focus on expanding clinical services in the western part of the parish, particularly pediatrics and neurosciences, as well as expanding primary care access. Another goal is to make health care more affordable, he said.
St. Tammany Parish Hospital administrators could not be reached for comment. But John Evans, chairman of the hospital’s board of commissioners, said in a prepared statement that the partnership is “an opportunity to strengthen and expand quality healthcare for the residents of western St. Tammany Parish.”
Ochsner already has a full-service regional medical center in Slidell that it bought in 2010 from Tenet Healthcare, which pulled out of the region after Hurricane Katrina. The nonprofit system also operates 11 clinics in the parish, six in the Slidell area and five on the western side of the parish.
St. Tammany Parish Hospital, a 222-bed facility established in 1954, is the parish’s oldest hospital. Slidell Memorial is the parish’s other public, not-for-profit hospital.
St. Tammany is also home to two other private hospitals — Lakeview Regional Medical Center in Covington and the Lacombe Heart Hospital — and several specialty hospitals.
Until recently, much of Ochsner’s expansion efforts had been focused on securing a deal to lease one or both of Jefferson Parish’s two public hospitals. But as the selection process dragged into its second year, Ochsner was never able to get enthusiastic support from either the hospitals’ boards or the Jefferson Parish Council. In April, it announced it was dropping out of that competition.
Ochsner’s withdrawal came the same day that the Parish Council selected New Orleans-based LCMC Health as a partner for West Jefferson Medical Center. East Jefferson General Hospital remains without a private partner.
In St. Tammany, the partnership will not change the governance, employees or medical staff relationships of either organization, according to the Ochsner news release.
Ochsner directly employs 1,000 physicians; another 1,600 have admitting privileges.
St. Tammany Parish Hospital is an open staffing hospital. Of its 400 or more doctors, only a small number are employees, a spokeswoman said.
More and more health care organizations are working to be collaborative, Thomas said, calling such partnerships crucial for independent hospitals and providers, as well as larger systems.
“We definitely believe local care is the best care,” he said.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.