Bon Secours, Liberty to join forces in city


Too small to stand alone, Bon Secours Hospital and Liberty Health System announced a joint venture they hope will improve their ability to compete for HMO contracts in West Baltimore.

The venture will focus heavily on developing primary-care services, bringing together doctors who already have affiliations with the inner-city hospitals and adding new doctors in the future.

This will help the hospitals obtain contracts with health maintenance organizations, which emphasize primary care, and compete for the biggest pool of business in the city: Medicaid and Medicare patients.

Large numbers of these patients will be pushed into HMOs as the state and federal governments try to cut the costs of the two big health programs for the poor and aged.

The venture, dubbed the "Community HealthCare Network of Baltimore," also will help the hospitals compete against the University of Maryland Medical System, which has aggressively expanded its primary-care services in West Baltimore.

Bon Secours has 208 beds and is headed by Chief Executive Jane R. Durney. Liberty, a 282-bed hospital, is run by Everard O. Rutledge.

There's a "fairly high degree of compatibility of our missions and our history," Ms. Durney said yesterday. The hospitals will invest equally in the joint venture and share equally in any profits, officials said.

Mr. Rutledge said it's too early to say how much money the hospitals will invest or when they will sign their first joint-venture contract with an HMO.

The joint venture is "not a surprise," said Cal Pierson, president of the Maryland Hospital Association. "I think both hospitals can play a complementary role in getting their services aligned and working together in serving the West Baltimore community."

Mr. Rutledge noted that the hospitals have long served their area of the city -- long before HMOs began to notice the profit potential of Medicaid patients. "We took care of them during the good and the bad times," he said.

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