St. John’s Medical Center and the University of Utah have worked together for decades. That relationship might get even closer in coming years.

St. John’s is one of 19 affiliates of the university around the Mountain West — a list the school won’t publish for the sake of competition. A new tier of partnership in the form of an LLC would offer hospitals membership in a new regional network as a step up.

“The ultimate goal of the LLC is to improve patient care and delivery of care,” said Suzanne Young, manager of the university’s public relations and marketing.

She compared the old affiliate model to a hub-and-spoke structure in which regional hospitals didn’t communicate as much as they could with each other. They were siloed, she said.

“We realized, ‘Oh, everyone has the same struggles, even us,’” Young said. “We all face the same issues with providing quality health care and controlling costs. These other health care systems weren’t really talking to each other, and there is a lot to be gained from that.”

Staff of the university likened becoming a member to being in the kitchen or having a seat at the proverbial table, allowing shared responsibility in governance of member decisions, an equal vote and an equal opportunity to contribute. Joining will cost St. John’s $50,000.

“It’s becoming clearer and clearer that many rural hospitals enhance their ability to work closely together and survive in this ever-changing health care environment by building alliances,” CEO Paul Beaupre told the St. John’s board of trustees in November.

The closer alliance, Young said, could be beneficial for Jackson residents and residents of the region because it would improve patient care.

St. John’s and the University of Utah team up to provide TeleBurn, TeleStroke and TeleICU — all forms of telemedicine — pulmonary care, oncology care and sleep medicine.

“One of the biggest things that really affects patient care is basically the continuity of care throughout the entire network,” Young said. “They’ll have the same accreditation, the same standards of the care, the same measures of success, that kind of thing. Networks are really a way for hospitals to find support while still remaining independent.”

That independence seemed key for some board members, who had many questions when University of Utah staff showed them the membership guidelines in late November.

Some wanted to know how to leave the group, if necessary, and how decisions would be made, especially if choices wouldn’t be in the best interest of St. John’s as an individual hospital or if lobbying didn’t align with the board’s political views.

An amendment to the original agreement would allow St. John’s to withdraw from the LLC at any point with a 90-day written notice, meaning St. John’s wouldn’t be locked into an automatic three-year partnership.

“The value of it is that the hospital will continue to remain independent and is more likely to remain independent because they will have this big support system,” Young said. “And their care will continue to get better because they will learn and grow from other hospitals who are having the same pain points.”

Karen Connelly, the hospital’s chief communications officer, said she understands the voting process to be a major difference compared with what exists today.

“It’s joint leadership rather than having the leadership come from the [University of Utah],” she said. “We’d have more of an equal voice in determining what the group will work on and focus on. The formation of an LLC to accomplish these goals is the framework that allows all of the participants to fund the efforts without putting any of the individual hospitals at an unnecessary risk.”

A board of representatives from participating hospitals would decide projects and focuses. Since the group doesn’t exist yet, it’s hard to say what it would focus on.

Several hospitals from Utah, Idaho and Nevada have committed to being members. Specific names can’t be released yet, Young said. They hope to have network members official by the first quarter of 2018.

The St. John’s board is likely to vote on whether to join during its Jan. 25 board meeting. It could choose to stay an affiliate of the University of Utah and not join the regional network.

Contact Kylie Mohr at 732-7079, or @JHNGhealth.

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