Aurora Health Care-already embroiled in a private antitrust lawsuit with one Green Bay, Wis., health system-is talking with a group of local doctors about building a new hospital there.
Aurora, headquartered in Milwaukee, recently signed a 180-day letter of intent to negotiate with BayCare Health Systems, a Green Bay-based multispecialty group with 83 physicians, 19 clinics and an ambulatory surgery center. The letter of intent will expire in the spring.
The beginning of formal negotiations between Aurora and BayCare comes just two months after Aurora was sued by Bellin Health Systems, which operates 167-bed Bellin Hospital, also in Green Bay.
That lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee, is over a 1997 partnership agreement between Aurora and Bellin, which Bellin says violates federal antitrust laws and "unreasonably restrains" trade (Aug. 24, p. 8). Bellin wants out of the agreement to pursue other deals.
Aurora has denied it violated antitrust laws and filed a counterclaim to Bellin's lawsuit. No trial date has been set.
The talks with BayCare were "not necessarily" an outgrowth of the antitrust lawsuit, said Jeff Squire, spokesman for Aurora, a 12-hospital not-for-profit regional system.
"We're interested in expanding and improving the healthcare services we offer there," Squire said. Aurora has 36 physicians practicing in five clinics in Green Bay.
Officials at Aurora and BayCare said they are exploring a number of possibilities, including building a new hospital or facilities such as another ambulatory surgery center, a clinic or medical office buildings.
Green Bay, with a population of about 102,000 in the city but 216,000 in the greater metropolitan area, has three acute-care hospitals with a total of 584 inpatient beds.
Besides Bellin, the other hospitals are 298-bed St. Vincent Hospital and 119-bed St. Mary's Hospital Medical Center, both owned by the Springfield, Ill.-based Hospital Sisters Health System.
St. Vincent, the largest hospital, has an average daily census of about 170 patients, giving it an occupancy rate of 57%.
St. Vincent Administrator Joseph Neidenbach told the Green Bay Press-Gazette that a fourth hospital might dilute patient levels and increase costs.
Bellin is running an average daily census of about 100 patients for an occupancy rate of 60%.
St. Mary's has an average daily census of 45 patients and an occupancy rate of 38%.
James Coller, St. Mary's chief executive officer, said Green Bay doesn't need another hospital. "I do not think we do, given the capacity of the existing three hospitals," he said.
BayCare physicians practice at all three hospitals.
Before the trouble between Aurora and Bellin, the talks with BayCare included Bellin, said Robert Cimasi, BayCare's former CEO, who is still the group's chief negotiator with Aurora.
Cimasi said the doctors are interested in building a new hospital because they want more modern facilities, control of delivery and the chance to locate a facility on Green Bay's east side, where the population is growing.
The structure of any deal with Aurora isn't known yet, Cimasi said. "These things are under discussion right now," he said.