Healthcare Business News
Anthony Tersigni, Ascension Health CEO

Ascension forms senior-care unit to integrate post-acute-care services

By Steven Ross Johnson
Posted: July 30, 2014 - 1:00 pm ET

To strengthen its footprint in the post-acute-care sector, Ascension Health has formed a senior-care division to integrate its extensive post-acute-care services and establish more uniform care standards.

The new division represents a reorganization of the St. Louis-based healthcare provider's existing senior-care services, which will include its independent living, assisted-living and skilled-nursing facilities under the name Ascension Health Senior Care. The new division will also include its Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE, a care-coordination initiative covered by both Medicare and Medicaid for adults age 55 and older who receive community-based, coordinated care from a team that provides prescription drug coverage, doctor care, transportation, home care, checkups, hospitals visits and nursing home stays.

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Overall, the move is expected to make Ascension Health the second-largest not-for-profit, long-term-care operator in the country, with more than 5,500 senior-care beds. Its three PACE programs have 725 dual-eligible enrollees.

Ascension, a Roman Catholic provider that is the nation's largest private not-for-profit health system, has 34 senior-care facilities across the country.

“It is essentially a reorganization of our existing senior services and programs that are around the country, typically located in our local ministries,” Robert Henkel, CEO of Ascension Health, said in an interview. “What we're doing is bringing them all together to operate together as a focus on patient-centered care for seniors and take advantage of our best practices, our knowledge and our experience in this particular area on a national scale.”

The first steps of the plan will involve identifying best practices in care and duplicating those models across all Ascension post-acute-care facilities to establish a more uniform set of standards, he said.

One analyst said the reorganization makes sense for a large hospital system like Ascension as a way of taking more control of the post-acute-care aspects of patient care, as part of the effort to reduce 30-day hospital readmissions.

“I think it's a great move on Ascension's part,” said Toby Wann, an analyst for Nashville-based equity research firm Obsidian Research Group. “As we move into a kind of a bundled-payment mechanism in healthcare for post-acute-care services, being able to control the clinical quality across the entire healthcare spectrum makes a lot of sense for a large acute-care hospital system such as Ascension.”

Henkel said Ascension currently does not have a specific growth strategy or target for senior-care services. But the new division will look to increase its footprint within markets where the health system has already been experiencing growth. “We will look at opportunities if they should present themselves in places that make sense for us to be,” he said.

Formed in 1999, Ascension Health has 131 hospitals and 1,900 care sites across 23 states and the District of Columbia.

The establishment of a senior-care division can be seen as a continuation of Ascension's overall strategy toward establishing a network of clinically integrated care systems. Anthony Tersigni, CEO of Ascension Health's parent organization, Ascension, recently told Modern Healthcare that Ascension Health's new partnership with CHE Trinity to create the Together Health Network in Michigan, as well as other ventures, is part of his organization's larger effort to manage population health.

“We probably have over 30 different accountable care organizations of some format, and it gives us the opportunity to see what works in terms of person-centered care, where the efficiencies can come from, and to share those efficiencies and those ideas across the system,” Tersigni said. “We're beginning to use lessons from the ACOs in improving our efficiency and outcomes for the people we're privileged to serve.”

Views are mixed as to what effect Ascension's move will have on the post-acute-care industry in general. While Wann believes it could change the industry, Brian Tanquilut, equity analyst for New York-based firm Jefferies Group, thought Ascension's move into the post-acute realm would have only a small effect in terms of market share. Still, he said the move was part of a trend by some operators to capture and retain an active patient population.

“It is a good indicator of where smart operators are going,” Tanquilut said. “If you want volume, tying up with an independent- or assisted-living facility is a good strategy if you can build around it.”

Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHsjohnson

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