PEKIN — Administrators for Progressive Health Systems, including Pekin Hospital and ProHealth Medical Group Inc., announced to its employees Tuesday morning the system’s intention to become an affiliate of UnityPoint Health-Peoria, which they say will help improve access to primary care, specialists and hospital services in the Tri-County region.

The organizations have signed a non-binding letter of intent to negotiate the final terms of the partnership, which are expected to be finalized later this year.

While some of the specifics of what the affiliation will mean for Pekin Hospital employees and the patients treated there won’t be clear until that final agreement is reached, the two system CEOs agree that services, strategies and certain management positions remain in Pekin.

“Health care is going to continue to be delivered locally, and the patients that come to our institution will be able to have most of their health care here,” said Bob Haley, CEO of ProHealth Medical Group. “That was a criteria that the board had when they started to look for an affiliation with another health care system, is one that valued community hospitals, that valued local health care, that valued the opportunity for patients and their family to stay local.”

UnityPoint Health-Peoria already has two hospitals in central Illinois — UnityPoint Health-Methodist and UnityPoint Health-Proctor — and more than 40 clinics, including multiple locations in Tazewell County and one in Pekin. Some UnityPoint cardiologists and neurologists see patients regularly in Pekin; cardiologists also make rounds at Pekin Hospital.

“We are able, as UnityPoint, to invest in this community, not as a competitor in the community but obviously as part of Progressive Health together. That allows us to put resources that were not available at this point,” said Debbie Simon, CEO of UnityPoint Health-Peoria.

Haley said the news of an impending partnership was well received during the first of two “town hall meetings” he and Simon led Tuesday to inform and answer questions from employees.

“The fact that they know that the direction that the hospital is going in relieved a lot of anxiety. It put a lot of people’s fear of the unknown to rest,” Haley said. “The hospital’s going to remain here for years and years to come.”

Exactly what that relationship will mean for employees and patients at Pekin’s hospital and clinical facilities won’t be determined until the terms of that agreement are reached.

A few things that Simon and Haley laid out on Tuesday were that there’s no plan for reductions in staff; in fact they anticipate creating new health care positions in Pekin. Eight of the 11 seats on the Progressive Health Systems board will be filled by Pekin residents, and employee job descriptions are to remain unchanged, at least in the short term.

Physicians in Pekin will be able to more seamlessly coordinate care with specialists in the UnityPoint network, including easy access to medical records that can alleviate stresses like duplicated tests and allow doctors on both ends to have the most thorough patient portrait possible.

Patients who receive primary care in Pekin and see specialists through a non-UnityPoint network, such as OSF HealthCare, will be able to continue that care uninterrupted. Future referrals will be made to both UnityPoint and OSF depending on which network is preferred by the patient’s insurance provider.

Access to specialists in Pekin could be one of the greatest net effects of the potential affiliation. Being part of a larger health system will both allow Pekin Hospital to recruit new physicians and have doctors based in Peoria share time and space in their facilities.

“By being a system and working together, this allows better local patient care, and patients can see a specialist that they historically may have had to drive across the river to see,” Haley said.

Following Tuesday’s announcements, the two organizations will enter into an exclusive negotiation process with discussions to begin immediately. Announcement of a final agreement will be subject to state approval and is expected before the end of 2016.

 

Laura Nightengale is the Journal Star health and lifestyle reporter. She can be reached at 686-3181 and lnightengale@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauranight.