In yet another sign of tumultuous times in the industry, Sharp HealthCare, a San Diego-based not-for-profit system, has dropped its membership in the American Hospital Association, MODERN HEALTHCARE has learned.
Sharp's pullout comes at a time when the AHA is attempting to revamp itself as a trade association for healthcare networks, not just hospitals. The make-over apparently was too little, too late for Sharp.
Sharp executives confirmed the system's decision last week. It notified the AHA of its decision in a January letter.
"We have decided not to renew our membership in the AHA," said Bob Williams, Sharp's senior vice president of marketing. "We had some choices to make in terms of associations, and it made sense to drop out of the AHA for economic and value reasons."
Sharp generally is regarded as one of the pioneers of integrated systems, now operating seven hospitals with nearly 2,000 licensed beds, 18 clinics, eight urgent-care centers and four skilled-nursing facilities under one corporate banner. Systemwide revenues totaled $742 million last year.
Sharp paid the AHA about $114,353 in annual membership dues last year.
It also belongs to the California Association of Hospitals and Healthcare Systems, the Healthcare Association of Southern California and Premier Health Alliance of Westchester, Ill.
The primary reason for dropping out of the AHA was financial, Williams said. The dues were significant, and it didn't make economic sense to belong to so many trade groups, he said.
The decision to withdraw from the AHA also was made, in part, because Sharp considers itself a full-fledged integrated delivery system rather than a hospital system, Williams said. So it decided to spend its money on association services and programs directed toward integrated systems, he said.
"AHA membership has served us well, but we just made a value judgment," he said.
MODERN HEALTHCARE requested an interview with Neil Jesuele, the AHA's new senior vice president for member relations and strategic development, but the association declined.
An AHA spokesman said the "door isn't closed" in the Sharp matter, suggesting that the association was attempting to lure the system back into the fold.
The spokesman acknowledged that the association is working hard to make its membership services and programs attractive to all the new forms of integrated systems providers are developing.
The AHA has 4,982 hospital and system members. That's down slightly from 5,014 at the same time last year.
In 1993, the latest year for which figures are available, AHA membership dues totaled $60.9 million. That includes dues payments from institutional and personal members.
The AHA brought Jesuele on board in January to develop and implement a system of monitoring key environmental changes facing its membership and to tailor association activities and services to meet the membership's new needs (Jan. 2, p. 8).
The creation of a new senior management position with responsibility for taking the pulse of the association's members is one manifestation of a plan adopted by the AHA's board last August. The plan calls on the AHA to evolve into an organization serving integrated systems and networks as well as individual hospitals.