Renamed Marin-Sonoma IPA would be 500 doctors, include big, small hospitals
NORTH BAY -- A leading Marin County doctors' association is heading an effort to create a potentially powerful network of hundreds of North Bay physicians that, if successful, would significantly alter the region's health care landscape.
The Marin Independent Practice Association said it will add physicians across Sonoma County to its network , including those associated with the county's largest hospital, Santa Rosa Memorial, along with Healdsburg District and Palm Drive hospitals. That's in addition to existing relationships with Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley hospitals as well as its presence at Marin General and Novato Community hospitals.
The network is intended to achieve the kinds of efficiencies of large physician organizations such as those associated with Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health.
Details of the network are still being worked out, according to the newly renamed Marin-Sonoma IPA. A final agreement could be reached within a matter of days.
Memorial's physician group, Annadel Medical Group, which contracts exclusively with St. Joseph Heritage Healthcare, is exploring a number of options. St. Joseph Heritage Healthcare is the medical practice foundation of St. Joseph Health System, which owns Memorial.
"We are currently exploring ways in which St. Joseph Heritage Healthcare medical practice foundation and the Annadel Medical Group can partner with other key health care providers in the region," said C.R. Burke, president and chief executive officer of the foundation. "At this point, no relationships have been finalized."
While hospitals stand to benefit from the expanded Marin-Sonoma IPA, it is the physicians themselves who align with the network.
With Marin-Sonoma IPA's expansion, the number of physicians affiliated with the network would grow to approximately 500 primary care providers and specialists -- a significant boon for the smaller physician practices and hospitals that struggle to compete with health care giants in recruiting and retaining doctors.
Previously, the IPA had about 350 members, with 250 in Marin and 100 in Sonoma and Petaluma.
"By expanding Marin-Sonoma IPA further north we can help private physicians continue to practice independently and give patients better access to a larger physician network," said Joel Criste, chief executive officer of Marin-Sonoma IPA, which is a health care network that represents physician members. The network, Mr. Criste said, will encourage "collaboration across autonomous physicians and facilities to improve patient access, information and quality throughout the North Bay."
It's a regional approach that could help keep once-struggling hospitals afloat, perhaps even thrive, as clinical integration and cost-reduction efforts take shape in lieu of the federal health overhaul last year.
"If we don't do it regionally, I don't believe we will be successful," said Daymon Doss, who just retired as chief executive officer of the Petaluma Health Care District but is now the executive director of the Northern California Health Care Authority.
"What we're trying to create is a virtual system" that spans the Highway 101 corridor, Mr. Doss added.
Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley hospitals were both already supporters of the Marin IPA. The inclusion of Healdsburg District and Palm Drive is essentially the finishing touches on what became known as the Regional Action Plan, a tacit agreement between Sonoma County's independent hospitals to seek relationships that drive down costs and offer more services.
Richard Polheber, the new chief executive officer at Palm Drive in Sebastopol, said becoming part of the network could be a key element in the hospital's survival. The 37-bed facility sold off $11 million in bonds to emerge from Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection last May.