Trustees of newly formed Baptist/St. Vincent's Health System, Jacksonville, Fla., celebrated their merger late last month with a two-day tour of the system's six hospitals and one nursing home.
"We had a moving caravan," said William Mason, the system's president and chief executive officer, describing the symbolic tour. "We had a prayer of commitment and met with volunteers, employees and physicians."
As part of the festivities leading up to the official first day of the new system on July 1, Baptist/St. Vincent's on June 30 also threw a party for business leaders who helped persuade the Justice Department's antitrust investigators that the merger would be good for the community.
"They really went to bat for us," Mason said. After a four-month investigation, the department cleared the merger in April. The system accounts for 1,150 of the city's 2,515 acute-care staffed beds, or 46% of the market.
The merger is one of the largest ever allowed in a single metropolitan market, said attorney John Cusack, who guided the systems through the regulatory process. Cusack is with Chicago law firm Gardner, Carton and Douglas.
The trustee tour and business party were somewhat unusual for newly merged hospitals, which generally focus on internal celebrations, said consultant Scott Mason, who advised Baptist Medical Center and St. Vincent's Medical Center on their merger. He is managing partner of National Health Advisors, Vienna, Va.
Even more unusual, he said, were the site visits that eight physicians and six managers of Baptist/St. Vincent's paid three mature healthcare systems in mid-July.
"They wanted to see how other integrated systems developed," he said. "It's a great idea that's rarely done."
Among the systems visited was Intermountain Health Care, Salt Lake City.
Now that the tours, parties and visits are over, executives are bracing for 100-hour work weeks. As William Mason of Baptist/St. Vincent's said, "I won't be playing golf until 1997."
The task ahead: putting together two systems of different religious backgrounds that encompass 14 operating units and 7,500 employees.
Since April 10 committees have been meeting to plan the consolidation. On June 30, the new board met to review the recently approved management structure and to appoint board committees. Simultaneously, several departments were consolidated and four senior executive vice presidents were appointed. The departments first combined were human resources, legal, finance, and public relations and marketing.
"It's important to consolidate management staff right away to get the process moving," William Mason said. Another decision was made to locate the new corporate office in a neutral site to create a new identity, he said.
"It's an enormous undertaking," said Carol Thompson, one of the new system's four executive vice presidents. "We had to spend so much time with the Justice Department we couldn't talk (with St. Vincent's) on how to do it. Right now we are having lots of meetings."
Baptist/St. Vincent's new board developed 10 "critical success factors" and appointed committees of trustees, executives and physicians to carry out the work.
Mirroring the success factors, the committees cover human resources, communications, primary care, information systems, managed care, physician integration, clinical outcomes/quality, finance and service realignment.
The 10th panel is a steering committee covering organizational structure and governance, composed of trustees and the system's top two executives, William Mason and Everett M. Devaney, the new president and chief operating officer.
Mason said the committees are hoping to complete much of their work by Sept. 30, when the new board will meet to review progress in a strategic planning retreat.
He said initial estimated savings of $80 million over five years probably will prove low. Already, Baptist/St. Vincent's has identified $10 million in savings that will result from having to purchase only one new information system this year, instead of the two that were budgeted by Baptist and St. Vincent's before the merger.
But communication with employees and the public should not be forgotten in the excitement to consolidate operations and reap financial benefits, Mason said.
"It's real important to say to the community why you are doing this and what the quality impact will be," he said. "After you've made the commitment, then commit further on the anniversary of the merger to give the community a very detailed report on the progress."
The system has commissioned a community-needs assessment to identify areas in which the new system can improve public health, he said.
"As a faith-based organization, we are committed to the community, not just those with health insurance," Mason said. "We will adopt programs and policies, and allocate human and financial resources to tackle some health problems in the community."
Baptist/St. Vincent's also has provided help for employees to cope with the organizational change issues.
Sister Irene Kraus, chairwoman of Baptist/St. Vincent's, said another area of concern for St. Vincent's was maintaining its 80-year-old Catholic identity in Jacksonville. She is chairwoman of a religious identity task force that is developing a plan.
"We supported consolidation from day one," Kraus said. "We want to make sure our Catholic tradition isn't lost.