MARINETTE — It took more than two years to find the right partner and broker a joint venture, but Monday, Bay Area Medical Center and Aurora Health Care announced they are ready to sign an agreement that is likely to significantly change health care in Menominee and Marinette counties.
The official signing event will take place Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. in the lobby of BAMC, and will include BAMC and Aurora leaders and officials.
The signing ceremony celebrates the two not-for-profit health care systems joining forces to elevate the standard of service in the community both have served for more than 20 years.
“This is a historic milestone for health care in this community,” said Ed Harding, president of BAMC. “Both Aurora and BAMC have served the Marinette community for many years and this joint venture ensures that residents of our community will have access to high-quality care, close to home into the future.”
Harding told the EagleHerald Monday that the BAMC Board of Directors met Monday morning to give its stamp of approval to the partnership. Aurora’s board had already given approval in late July.
While the decision to partner with Aurora was announced in late 2013, it has taken months to finalize the agreement.
“We’ve been hammering away at this for a number of months,” Harding said. “It took longer than I anticipated, but when you look at the scope of this ... it’s obviously a multi-million dollar (agreement) coming together and as such, just from a legal standpoint, we had a lot of attorneys involved. When you get that, it tends to slow things down.”
BAMC began the process to find a strategic partner in early 2012.
Aurora will serve as a minority partner in the hospital, infusing capital into BAMC and bringing advanced services to the facility, while keeping health care local.
Harding said while the details had to go through a myriad of legal steps, “we stuck to our original intent and that is to form a minority interest partner, so we’re allowing Aurora to invest in BAMC and we’ve always said up to 49 percent. That would allow us to maintain that local control and that’s remained intact throughout.”
The partnership does allow Aurora to have a 49 percent interest in the new joint venture, Harding said.
There has been talk throughout the process that the new partnership would allow BAMC to either make major changes to its existing facility or open the door to build a brand-new hospital.
Harding said the agreement being signed Wednesday will require a decision on facilities within six months, but he predicts the news will come much sooner.                                                               
“It will be well before that, because we’re actually having our ongoing meeting on facilities; we’re having another one tomorrow. These are big meetings — several people from Aurora, several people on our end, (an) architect involved; engineers involved.”
Harding said the group is looking at efficiencies, costs of duplication, even energy costs and savings on new vs. existing structures.
“The first phase of talking about it is the marketing, the deal. The next phase will be likely a branding phase and the one soon thereafter, an announcement on facilities,” he said.
Harding and other members of the senior management team will hold three “town meetings” with BAMC employees today, to share more information with them about what will be announced Wednesday.
“We will be discussing details with staff tomorrow,” John Hofer, BAMC director of marketing.
Staff are likely to have many questions, but Harding pointed out that the joint venture is not geared toward streamlining services and people, “but to grow services in the marketplace.”
Harding had praise for those involved in the planning and negotiations.
“I’m really pleased with the amount of work and effort the board put into this, and the senior management team and the medical staff,” he said. “I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made and the decision we’re announcing.”
The joint venture will allow for shared resources, such as technology and supply costs. In addition, the partnership will leverage its size to continue improving the quality and efficiency of care for the community.
Aurora currently has physicians and clinics in the Marinette area, but not a hospital, with the closest being a tertiary hospital, Aurora BayCare Medical Center, in Green Bay. This joint venture will provide BAMC with access to Aurora providers, depth of expertise in care management, supply chain and other areas.
“Aurora is pleased to partner with BAMC to share clinical best practices and expertise,” said Sandra Ewald, president of Aurora Health Care’s Green Bay, Manitowoc and Marinette Patient Service Market. “We are committed to health care in this community and this joint venture solidifies that.”
In the coming months, the joint venture will be establishing its new board of directors, which will then develop a recommendation for facility, clinic and physician planning. BAMC will also work toward establishing the same electronic medical record system as Aurora.