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Year in Review: Carroll Hospital Center partners with LifeBridge Health

Carroll Hospital Center and LifeBridge Health are expected to complete a mutual agreement outlining the specifics of their partnership sometime in January, according to hospital spokeswoman Selena Brewer, with a final agreement reached by spring.

The boards of both nonprofit health systems approved a letter of intent to form a partnership in November. Carroll Hospital Center and LifeBridge's respective CEOs, Leslie Simmons and Neil Meltzer, said the merger enhances the ability of both organizations to offer new and advanced services to their patients.

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"We were looking for an organization that shared our desire to provide quality services locally, to invest in the health and wellness in our community," Simmons said in November. "The benefit to us is we will be able to have access to new programs and services we don't currently have and to have them available locally, both on our campus and in our LifeBridge network all together."

LifeBridge Health consists of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, Northwest Hospital, LifeBridge Medical Centers in Eldersburg and Reisterstown, affiliated facilities and numerous network physician practices.

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If all goes as anticipated, the first new services and renovations at Carroll Hospital Center could be seen as soon as late 2015 or early 2016.

Given LifeBridge's existing facilities in Carroll County, Meltzer said the partnership with Carroll Hospital Center seemed like a natural evolution.

For Carroll Hospital Center patients, the partnership means a new array of services that will be made available at the hospital campus and in the surrounding community, according to Simmons.

An on-site neonatal intensive care unit at the Westminster hospital, development of outpatient ambulatory care services and additional urgent care centers, are some of the services Simmons said the community would be most excited about.

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"There will also be … the ability to work with our current physicians and additional sub-specialties that we don't currently have," she said.

The hospital began exploring the idea of partnering with another organization in 2012, while still under the leadership of former CEO John Sernulka, who told the Carroll County Times in a February interview that he believed the future of medicine would rely on larger health systems. He cited the precedent of similar mergers in the greater Maryland region, beginning with the 1984 transition of the University Hospital from state ownership to the private, nonprofit University of Maryland Medical System, which now contains multiple hospitals.

A partnership was also a way to provide the leverage needed to implement the changes specified in the hospital's strategic plan for the future, Vision 2020, which aimed to significantly expand the scope of the hospital's services by the year 2020, with a strong emphasis on wellness and providing care in the community outside the hospital.

Sernulka had previously told the Times that any partner for Carroll Hospital Center would have to share the values expressed in the Vision 2020 plan and that this was more important than any financial concern.

There was a financial component to the search for a partner, however.

The scale of the Vision 2020 plan required an additional $88 million over Carroll Hospital Center's expected budget between fiscal year 2016 and FY2020, and Simmons said the partnership with LifeBridge is a definitive solution for that funding gap.

"This partnership has just committed the capital resources we need to accomplish all of the ... goals of Vision 2020," she said.

The goals of Vision 2020 also align strongly with the values and goals of LifeBridge Health, according to Meltzer, and were one of the reasons the partnership made sense.

LifeBridge was formed in the mid-'90s with the merger of Sinai, and Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, according to Meltzer, plus the addition of Northwest Hospital when they were looking for a partner in the late '90s. In all its expansions, Meltzer said LifeBridge has been selective, with facilities maintaining their own character while also providing an expanded continuum of care for patients in their communities.

The LifeBridge partnership with Carroll Hospital will be equitable with both Simmons and Meltzer retaining their present roles as president and CEO of their respective organizations. Additionally, Simmons will take a seat on the LifeBridge board, and Meltzer will take a seat on the board of Carroll Hospital Center.

Neither Simmons nor Meltzer could comment on whether any money would be exchanged as part of the deal, citing confidentiality agreements.

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