MORGANTOWN — Many area residents have for years scratched their heads over the often tense relationship between WVU Medicine and Mon Health System.
They’re housed essentially across the street from each other. They both exist to heal people and help them live healthy. But in general, at best, they’ve appeared to be little more than frenemies.
That era is over, WVU Health System President and CEO Albert Wright and Mon Health President and CEO David Goldberg told The Dominion Post in a joint interview Thursday.
The two knew each other from their days in Pittsburgh at different large health systems, said Goldberg, who came to Mon Health in October 2018.
“I was thrilled, when I came back here to Morgantown to be at Mon Health, to fix our relationships and to collaborate for the betterment of the community,” Goldberg said. “I think we’re much better off today than we’ve ever been in the history of our two organizations.”
Wright said, “The WVU Medicine and the Mon Health System relationship is a complicated one. It’s been a challenging one over time. … We recognize there’s going to be competition between the organizations, but what I think we’re doing a pretty good job of now that I’m pretty proud of … is areas where it doesn’t make sense to compete but rather collaborate, let’s go ahead and accomplish those.”
Change begins at the top and Goldberg and Wright talk regularly, they said.
“It starts with us, and I think the tone of our organizations continues to improve,” Goldberg said.
There are some areas of collaboration that have gone on for years that the public probably hasn’t noted.
For instance, Goldberg said, Mon Health has contracted with WVU Medicine for pediatrics and neonatology coverage. Mon also sends nephrology patients across the street. It’s wiser to share expertise instead of duplicating infrastructure.
Other examples of collaboration are HealthWorks Rehab & Fitness, co-owned by both; and Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital (formerly HealthSouth), a three-way partnership between both and Encompass.
“It all starts with us. And our future, I think, depends on our ability to continue to collaborate,” Goldberg said, adding they often joke between themselves, “We can collaboratively compete.”
That means, in part, they are different organizations with different missions, to some degree. Mon Health is a community health system, while WVU Medicine is an academic operation that offers quaternary (specific, very highly specialized) and some tertiary (highly specialized) care that Mon can’t offer.
Their medical staffs have always gotten along, and they send patients back and forth, Wright said.
Goldberg offered an example of that: A cancer patient who needs surgical care not offered at Mon. The patient is getting radiation and medical oncology there; when the patient needs surgery, WVU is ready to provide that, and follow-up will continue at Mon.
A new collaboration is the merger of Mon EMS with WVU Hospitals Health Team Critical Care Transport, which began last fall and is expected to be completed later this spring.
They jointly realized, they said, that it’s best to send closest EMS provider instead of competing. Under the merger, calls are based on ambulance location, not an agency priority list.
The new partnership will operate with equal partnership under the Mon EMS name under a new board with a new director. The Mon EMS ambulances will lose their green wraps — a sore spot perceived as a mobile billboard for Mon Health — and bear the logos of both organizations.
The partnership is expected to reduce costs and improve outcomes, Goldberg said. Jan-Care and Star City EMS will remain part of the mix for ambulance calls.
Other collaborative opportunities will present themselves, Wright said. Neither organization is dominant in post-acute care: Such things as home health, durable medical equipment and hospice.
“Rather than compete to see who can build it first, why not build it together,” he said.
Another collaboration is in the works: A long-term acute care facility. This is typically a hospital within a hospital, Wright said. It serves seriously ill patients staying longer than 25 days. Surrounding cities have them, but there’s none in this area to date.
So WVU Medicine and Mon Health are establishing one, a 25-bed unit to be housed in Mon Health Medical Center’s north tower fourth floor — the newest wing.
They are engaging an outside partner to run it; and it will have its own CEO and nursing director, manage itself and issue its own bills. The majority of patients will come from Ruby, but doctors from both facilities will have privileges there, they said.
Wright and Goldberg also commented on the recently settled breach-of-contract lawsuits involving three cardiologists who moved from one facility to the other.
They talked about the cases for several months, they said, and worked out settlements (terms confidential), realizing they needed to put the suits behind them and that they need to recruit from each other’s staffs.
Both organizations, they said, receive high marks for quality of care from third-party evaluators, marks among the best in the nation. The public is learning they don’t need to go to Pittsburgh or Cleveland for great care — they can get it here. And doctors are drawn here from across the country, because they know they can work in settings that deliver top-notch care.
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