Two of Chicago's healthcare networks last week nailed down more partnerships designed to expand their geographic reach outside the metropolitan area.
The Northwestern Healthcare Network added its second hospital in as many weeks and was preparing to ink a deal with the mammoth managed-care firm United HealthCare Corp. of Minneapolis to develop a network of outpatient clinics.
"We're preparing ourselves with quality physicians and institutions for a system that covers the entire Chicago region," said Bruce Spivey, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the Northwestern Healthcare Network.
Holding to its promise to compete south of the city, Northwestern signed an affiliation agreement with 248-bed Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet, Ill.
"Each institution (in the Northwestern network) will be capable of providing services in its own area, but together, we will be able to do joint projects more effectively," Dr. Spivey said.
It's the ninth affiliate of the Northwestern network, which will have more than 4,000 affiliate physicians, operate more than 3,200 beds and admit more than 135,000 patients annually.
That mass of patients will be key to the United-Northwestern venture. Executives said negotiations continue as the organizations complete financial details.
"Affiliation will strengthen Silver Cross Hospital's already strong position at a time when managed care and other market forces are making increasingly greater demands on independent hospitals," said Morris Hershman, chairman of the Silver Cross board of trustees.
Meanwhile, one of Northwestern's competitors reached into a neighboring state to enhance its market strategy.
University of Chicago Hospitals snagged a three-hospital system that covers southwestern Michigan. With more than 400 beds, the Lakeland Regional Health System includes Berrien General Hospital, Berrien Center, Mich.; Mercy-Memorial Medical Center, St. Joseph, Mich.; and Pawating Hospital in Niles, Mich.
The University of Chicago network appears on its way to a goal of being a provider for 500,000 patients and 1,000 physicians. "The Lakeland affiliation will convert a friendship into a partnership," said Ralph Muller, president of the University of Chicago Hospitals.
The Michigan system also said it was attracted to University of Chicago's expertise in specialty-care areas such as organ transplants and cancer therapies.
Despite their reputation for higher costs, academic medical centers actually have been good marketing tools for networks in attracting hospitals.
Several of Chicago's competing networks have been bolstering their specialty-care areas. Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, the anchor of the Rush System for Health, last week became the second academic medical center in the metropolitan area to open a cancer institute in the past year.
Just two months ago, 561-bed Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., launched a $30 million cancer center (Sept. 19, p. 12). Loyola is the proposed hub academic medical center of the 11-hospital network being formed by the Catholic Health Alliance of Metropolitan Chicago.