NorthBay Healthcare has joined the network of Minnesota-based UnitedHealthCare, which will enable some 11,000 Solano County residents to be treated at NorthBay's two hospitals and various clinics , the two companies announced.

United members enrolled through either employer or individual health plans will be able to seek physicians and treatment from North Bay Medical Center in Farfield, VacaValley Hospital in Vacaville and four Centers for Primary Care  -- in Fairfield, Vacaville and Green Valley -- in addition to specialty physicians, according to NorthBay.

United has about 9,300 Solano County residents as members of its PPO health plan and another 2,300 that are part of its HMO.  It serves some 2.3 million members in California and 70 million nationwide.

Fairfield-based NorthBay Healthcare does not track the exact numbers of patients from any individual plan at any one time, making it difficult to determine an exact economic impact. But the contract nevertheless opens the door for a significant increase in patients who can now be referred to NorthBay facilities and physicians, spokesman Steve Huddleston said.

"More physicians can now direct their patients to NorthBay for procedures, hospital care and services that in some cases were not available to them before," he said, adding that in some cases, members of United's PPO already use NorthBay as an "out of network" provider, which typically requires a higher copay. Now, NorthBay is in network.

“This new relationship with UnitedHealthcare is a major addition and extends the care we provide to more residents in Northern California,” said Gary Passama, president and CEO of NorthBay Healthcare. “UnitedHealthcare and NorthBay share a common goal of providing convenient access to care to plan customers in our community. We are very pleased to now offer this choice to area employers and patients.”

 United's Califonia network includes almost 320 hospitals and more than 48,000 physicians and other health care professionals.

“NorthBay Healthcare is an important provider of health care services in this area, and our new network relationship gives UnitedHealthcare plan participants in Solano County greater access to quality medical facilities and skilled physicians close to where they live and work,” said Daniel Rosenthal, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual of Northern California.

NorthBay Healthcare includes specialized services such as the NorthBay Heart & Vascular Center, NorthBay Cancer Center and a host of affiliated physician practices including the Center for Women’s Health, Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology, Center for Pain Management, Orthopaedics, and other specialty care practices.  ***

St. Joseph Healthy System--Sonoma County, which overseas operations Santa Rosa Memorial and Petaluma Valley hospitals, was invited to the White House  last month to discuss best practices in community partnerships.

The invitation came from the federal Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Dory Escobar, director of community benefit, represented the health system at the two-day meeting on Feb. 16-17 in Washington, D.C., titled: “Improving Health Outcomes through Faith-Based and Community Partnerships: Best Practices from Health Systems in the Field.”

The meeting brought together community benefit leadership from health systems across the country to address how health systems can improve their ongoing outreach. Topics included: community asset mapping, tracking data and evaluation, and how to best invest community benefit dollars to ensure that the funds and services provided are making a difference.

St. Joseph Health System’s community partners include community clinics and the county health department, schools and homeless services. "This extensive network of relationships has enabled us to work together toward a shared vision of building healthy communities,” Ms. Escobar said.***

Kaiser Permanente health plans across California earned a four-star rating for overall quality of care in the Healthcare Quality Report Card from the California Office of the Patient Advocate, according to the Oakland-based HMO, which said it was the only health plan in the state to earn the distinction. It's the fourth straight year that is has earned four stars.

Kaiser Permanente in both Northern and Southern California also received four stars—the highest possible rating—in the “Members Rate their HMO” category, which measures patient satisfaction with their care and service, according to Kaiser.

The 2012 report card (online at http://www.opa.ca.gov/report_card/) provides California consumers with side-by-side comparisons of the nine largest health plans in the state, ranking them on national standard-of-care measures that involve treatment of a range of acute and chronic conditions, and preventive care that has long-term implications on personal health....

Submit items for this column to Business Journal Staff Writer Dan Verel at 707-521-4257 or dverel@busjrnl.com.