In a move that may lead to stronger ties between Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. and Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, the companies are negotiating for Kaiser physicians to manage the emergency room of a Columbia hospital in Healdsburg.
The arrangement would call for Kaiser physicians to manage a four-doctor ER group at 50-bed Healdsburg General Hospital that would care for both Kaiser and non-Kaiser patients.
"I felt this would be a good way for us to start a relationship which hopefully would develop into something stronger," said Steve Hall, chief executive officer at Healdsburg and at nearby 50-bed Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol.
One-third of Healdsburg's 95,000 residents are Kaiser enrollees, Hall said. Yet they drive 20 miles or more to Kaiser's hospital in Santa Rosa, except in extreme emergencies, he said.
The ER arrangement in Healdsburg would fit Columbia's strategy, Hall said.
"This is the largest state in the union, and if Columbia wants to have a major presence in the U.S., they'd better have a strong presence in California," Hall said. In recent moves toward that goal, Columbia has acquired Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose and has formed a joint venture with Sharp HealthCare in San Diego.
Kaiser and Columbia have other connections. For example, a Columbia hospital serves Kaiser enrollees in Dallas, where the HMO has 120,000 enrollees and no hospital.
The arrangement in Healdsburg also would dovetail with Kaiser's move to explore affiliations with community hospitals in California, where the HMO generally sees patients only in Kaiser hospitals. That may lead to closing some Kaiser hospitals with excess capacity.
"We're looking at ways we can most effectively use our delivery system and the community's in providing good quality, good service and affordable care," said Chris Stenzel, director of business development for Kaiser's Northern California region.
"Once you break through the thought that Kaiser is going to provide services just out of our own facilities, that will present a whole new set of opportunities for us," he said.