HAWC, Saint Mary's deal 'no shotgun marriage'

Talks that led to the combination of HAWC Community Health Centers with the Mission Outreach services of Saint Mary's were under way well before the sale of Saint Mary's to Prime Healthcare Services was on the horizon.

"This was a not a shotgun marriage," says Michael Johnson, vice president of community health and mission integration for Saint Mary's. "eHarmony couldn't have a done better job. We scored very high on the compatibility scale."

HAWC the name is short for "Health Access Washoe County" and the Saint Mary's outreach services will merge effective July 1.

The merged nonprofit operation to be known as Community Health Alliance will operate HAWC's three clinics in Reno and Virginia City, Saint Mary's health centers in Sun Valley and on Neil Road and other Saint Mary's services, such as a mobile dental clinic and Immunize Nevada.

Dan Ahearn, M.D., the chief executive officer of HAWC, says the combined organizations will employ about 165 with an annual budget of more than $15 million. Nearly all of the 70 people employed by Saint Mary's Mission Outreach will be offered positions at Community Health Alliance.

The two organizations have provided care to a combined total of nearly 90,000 people a year.

Talks between Saint Mary's and HAWC began about a year ago, but picked up steam as Saint Mary's leaders saw the increasing likelihood that the Reno medical center would be acquired by a for-profit hospital company.

The sale of Saint Mary's is scheduled to close this month.

The Dominican Sisters San Rafael, the founders of Saint Mary's, strongly believed that continuation of the outreach services would need to be assured as part of any sale of the hospital, Johnson says.

HAWC provided a natural fit for a partnership.

"The mission is the same," says Ahearn. "We're here to serve the underserved."

Financially, Saint Mary's simply gave its health centers and Mission Outreach services to HAWC.

Even so, Ahearn says HAWC will need continued financial support from the community. Payments from patients or their health insurers account for about 58 percent of HAWC's revenues. Federal grants account for another 32 percent. Support from private individuals and foundations, corporations and local government provides the rest.

HAWC is designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center, which allows it to receive federal grants to serve poor people. Saint Mary's, as a faith-based organization, couldn't tap federal funds.

The merger agreement was signed May 1. That set the clock ticking on a vast number of tasks ranging from integration of data systems to ensuring that appointment cards and prescription pads were reprinted, Ahearn says.

Patients shouldn't see any operational differences after the merger, Ahearn says, and the various clinics and health-care services will continue to operate under their existing names.

HAWC was founded in 1988 when the Washoe County Medical Center sought ways to provide basic services to people in need. Saint Mary's Mission Outreach was created in 1992.


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