New Helix chief puts Hopkins talks on hold Abrupt change at top forces review of plans, including local merger

Health care

December 18, 1997|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

Merger talks between Johns Hopkins and the five-hospital Helix Health group are on hold while Helix's new chief executive reviews plans, according to officials of both organizations.

Michael R. Merson, who had been vice chairman of Helix, took over the top job when James A. Oakey abruptly resigned last month. Oakey's departure came as talks between the two -- which could unite the state's two largest hospital systems -- were reaching a stage described as "serious" and "intense."

"Mike Merson has asked that he have some time to reassemble his people and review their thinking," said Ronald R. Peterson, president of Johns Hopkins Health System. He said Hopkins was still interested in continuing the discussions when Merson is ready.

Peterson said Helix is attractive as a potential partner because it offers "complementary services" to Hopkins and "has done well from a financial point of view."

Helix also remains interested, Gerry Blair, its director of marketing, said yesterday. On the change in leadership, he said, "I can't say it's changed anything, but Mike's style is a little more deliberative than Jim's."

Blair also said Helix had other possible options to consider. "They weren't the only folks we were talking to," he said.

He said Merson wanted to review broad strategic questions: "What's going on? What's out there? This is one of many opportunities; how do they relate? What is the best alternative open to us?"

A merger between Hopkins and Helix would create a system controlling roughly a quarter of the hospital beds in the state.

The Helix hospitals are Franklin Square in White Marsh and four in Baltimore: Church, Good Samaritan, Harbor and Union Memorial. Besides Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Hopkins system includes Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Nationally and locally, hospitals have been merging with each other and with other health providers -- nursing homes, physician groups and so on -- to create "integrated delivery systems" capable of negotiating and managing contracts with HMOs and similar managed care insurers.

Hopkins and other medical centers have been looking to affiliate with community hospitals such as those in the Helix group to allow the hospital systems to move patients to lower-cost settings and to guarantee the academic center a flow of specialty referrals.

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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