The Lake Health board of trustees and UH’s board of directors approved the agreement on Wednesday, Dec. 16. Lake Health said in a news release on Thursday, Dec. 17, that completion of the transaction is subject to regulatory approval, and that the move “will assure convenient access to the most advanced healthcare and services for patients in Lake County and surrounding communities now and in the future.”
Cynthia Moore-Hardy, president and CEO of Lake Health, said in a statement, “Our goal has been, and continues to be, to provide access to the highest quality care for the people of Lake County and surrounding communities, right here at home. Joining UH will enable us to enhance existing healthcare services close to home and continue to improve health outcomes for the community.”
In the release, Lake Health said UH “has committed to work closely with Lake Health’s board, physicians, leadership, employees and volunteers to bring investments that will benefit the communities served, including enhancements to facilities, equipment and services.” Joining UH “will provide leading-edge technology, innovative practices, strong clinical research and other initiatives that will complement and grow Lake Health’s highly regarded clinical programs,” the release stated.
Moore-Hardy said in an interview conducted via Zoom on Thursday afternoon that there were “a number of interested parties,” both in and outside Ohio, that had inquired about partnering with Lake Health. But she said that as the process played out “it became clear that UH would be our best partner” in terms of a cultural fit and aligned interests in areas that include access to care and enhancing service options for patients.
Dr. Cliff A. Megerian, president of UH and its incoming CEO, said in the same Zoom interview that he was “honored and humbled” that Lake Health chose UH as its partner. He said the cultures of the two systems “meshed beautifully” and should help achieve the goals of driving up value for patients and access to care, while controlling and helping to drive down costs.
Megerian’s thoughts were underscored by Thomas F. Zenty III, the CEO of UH through the end of January, when he will retire, who said in a statement, “The benefits gained through becoming part of UH will lead to greater value and lower costs of care for Lake Health’s patients.”
As part of the agreement, UH “will honor existing affiliations with Lake Health, its employed physicians, and independent physicians affiliated with Lake Health, and offer broader support that includes access to UH clinical trials, training and education,” the release stated.
Lake Health employees will become UH employees following regulatory approval of the transaction. Lake Health said in its release that UH “has committed to provide equivalent or better benefits and credit for time served.” Patients will continue to receive care from the same Lake Health doctors and nurses, in the same locations, as prior to the transaction, Lake Health noted.
Megerian said the Lake Health name “is a valuable, trusted brand” that will continue to exist in some form after the transaction is completed.
Both he and Moore-Hardy said they felt confident about the prospects of approval from state and federal regulators, but they declined to put a timetable on when such approval might be finalized.
The organizations are not strangers.
They already were partners in the Lake Health/University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, which is at the Lake Health Mentor Campus. And last year, UH became a minority member of the Lake Health Beachwood Medical Center, an acute care hospital specializing in orthopedics, urology, spine and pain management.
When Lake Health began exploring a partnership, it did so as its leaders “began to weigh how quickly healthcare was changing due to consumerism and technology advances,” Crain’s reported in March. In a statement at the time, Dr. Philip Brzozowski, president of the Lake Health Medical Staff, said, “We begin this process from a position of strength. By any metric, we have evolved into one of the outstanding healthcare providers in the region. Yet, there is another level to which we aspire. This process is about seeing if we can enhance our abilities and opportunities to provide care right here in Lake County.”
Between 1924 and 1985, Lake County Memorial Hospitals was a county-owned entity. The hospitals converted in 1985 to a private, independent nonprofit called Lake Hospital System, taking over all obligations from the county, including $19.7 million in debt. The system changed its name to Lake Health in 2009.
UH is ending the year on an active note.
The system in November entered into an agreement with Western Reserve Hospital to obtain a minority interest in the independent, physician-owned hospital in Cuyahoga Falls. That partnership gives UH its first inpatient location in Summit County.
UH employs more than 28,000 Ohio residents and is the second-largest employer in Northeast Ohio. The system’s flagship academic medical center, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, located in Cleveland’s University Circle, is affiliated with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.