MARQUETTE - The news that Bell Hospital and Marquette General Health System plan to form a cooperative partnership to increase jobs and patient access to health care was met with positive reactions when announced Friday afternoon.
Superior Health Partners will be a separate corporation to recruit more physicians to the area, increasing patient access to specialists and recapturing some of the $100 million that leaves the area each year in health care dollars, hospital officials said.
"The largest employer sector taking a step like this is huge to me. I hope it's contagious," said Amy Clickner, CEO of the Lake Superior Community Partnership. "The collaboration and the regionalism is very important."
Although only the boards of Bell and MGHS have signed letters of intent to form the new corporation, the two hospitals have begun to reach out to other Upper Peninsula hospitals.
"Our relationship over the years has been very strong with Marquette General," said Jim Bogan, CEO of Portage Health Systems in Hancock. "Health care is a challenge today. It will only get more difficult in the future.
"If we cannot gather more physicians to live and work in the U.P., we're going to continue to have an out-migration, which none of us want to have."
Health care was the main theme of the Operation Action U.P. annual meeting Friday, where the Bell/MGHS partnership was announced.
The Superior Health Partners announcement came during a panel discussion with Gary Muller, CEO of MGHS; Rick Ament, CEO of Bell; and Dennis Smith, CEO of Upper Peninsula Health Plan.
"In the Upper Peninsula, the health care component of our regional economy can't be over emphasized," said John Marshal, co-chairman of Operation Action U.P. "Our health care institutions collectively are easily the largest employers in the U.P."
Although the boards of MGHS and Bell have been meeting about the cooperative effort since September, it was Bell's board that took the initial steps to begin talks and both boards voted unanimously to enter into the agreement.
"I think we can give better care to our community," said Ron Katers, chairman of the Bell board. "It's great for employment. We have to retain more of our business within the county."
MGH board Chairman Tim Larson agreed.
"I think it's the right time ... to really form a strategic partnership," he said. "We're better off working together and using our resources as best we can."