Marshfield Clinic Health System and Gundersen Health System are in discussions to potentially merge the organizations into one, fully-integrated health system to collectively enhance the level of care across Wisconsin, northeast Iowa and southeastern Minnesota.

The two organizations will spend the coming months working out details of a possible merger that could create a health system led by more than 2,000 clinicians and with more than 18,000 total employees.

Marshfield Clinic Health System operates Marshfield Medical Center-Ladysmith, formerly called Rusk County Memorial Hospital. Officials of that organization have an agreement with the county to locate a new medical center in the Ladysmith area within five years.

The talks do not change anything with respect to the commitments Marshfield has made to the community, according to MMC-L Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Euclide.

“It does not change our strategy, and it does not change any future plans we have made to invest in health care in our community,” Euclide said.

 “We are pursuing this merger with Gundersen because it would allow us to do more than ever to serve our patients, families and communities,” Euclide said. “We are very similar organizations, with similar histories, and a bedrock commitment to rural health care. Together, we would be better able to lower the cost of care and keep care close to home for more patients and families across the state.

Euclide called the talks, “the beginning of a process and a journey with Gundersen.

“Many details still must be worked through,” Euclide said.

The Ladysmith hospital employs between 170 and 180 people.

While Marshfield Clinic Health System and Gundersen Health System already have a similar mission, vision and values, both organizations realize the unique opportunity, officials said Tuesday in a joint news release.

“The combined strength through a merger could bring together the best pieces of both organizations in today’s highly competitive and ever-changing healthcare environment,” they said in the release.

Based in La Crosse, Gundersen Health System is an integrated healthcare organization serving counties in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

Based in Marshfield, Marshfield Clinic is a health care system with over 50 locations in northern, central and western Wisconsin.

The goal is to lower the cost of care, create an exceptional patient experience and deliver high-quality care and the best outcomes for patients.

Marshfield Clinic Health System has worked relentlessly over the last few years to position itself for the future and create a better framework for serving patients and communities, according to its CEO, Susan Turney, MD.

“While at the same time, the disruption in the industry and competitive nature of healthcare has made it vital we construct a dynamic and strong integrated health system,” Turney said. “This merger would give us an opportunity to combine the unique strengths of our systems to become the preeminent rural healthcare organization in the country.”

Providing great care for patients, their families and communities are top priorities for each organization, along with improving access to quality healthcare. Gundersen Health System and Marshfield Clinic Health System have spent years improving healthcare access in rural areas through tele-health services, the enhancement of Critical Access Hospitals and clinics in small communities, recruiting and retaining clinicians to practice in rural areas, and many other initiatives, officials stated.

“We realize the success of our journey to provide high-quality, outstanding experience, and affordable care to enrich lives and enhance the health of the communities we serve relies on working with many partners in a variety of ways,” said Gundersen Health System CEO Scott Rathgaber, MD.

“This opportunity to unite promises the potential to magnify our impact and bring our care model to even more communities by leveraging the strengths of two mission-driven systems with more than a century of commitment to rural healthcare.”

If they were to merge, Marshfield Clinic Health System and Gundersen Health System would have more than 18,000 employees, 13 hospitals and more than 100 clinics, which includes medical clinics, eye centers, dental centers, urgent care locations and pharmacies.

Rusk County Memorial Hospital officially joined the Marshfield Clinic Health System last Sept. 1. It was then renamed Marshfield Medical Center-Ladysmith.

The health system currently in Ladysmith has a clinic that offers walk-in care, family medicine and specialty care, a dental center and a physical therapy center.

The Rusk County Board of Supervisors in August 2017 approved a Letter of Intent, and in February 2018 approved a Definitive Agreement that established terms to affiliate Rusk County Memorial Hospital and the Clinic at Riverside with Marshfield Clinic Health System. As part of the agreement, a new hospital will be built in Rusk County.

Marshfield Clinic has agreed to purchase land to construct a new hospital, medical office building and ambulatory and acute care service facility within the county. At this time no definitive location has been determined for the facility.

The agreement authorizes Marshfield Clinic to invest not more than $35 million in the acquisition of land, construction and furnishing of the new hospital. The clinic will pay a minimum of $400,000 per year in lease payments to the county for rent of the current building.

Answering a request for proposals in August were Sacred Heart and MCHS. Marshfield Clinic was selected as the sole partner to move forward with a non-binding Letter of Intent.

The operating agreement between Marshfield Clinic and the county set an April 2019 closing date. That date was not concrete and a deal was expected to be finalized before then.

The facility was originally called St. Mary’s Hospital. It was constructed and dedicated on June 5, 1918 by the Servants of Mary. Rusk County has owned the hospital since Sept. 1973.

Last September, the county board rejected a $265,000 Marshfield Clinic Health System offer to purchase the 29.43 acre county highway shop and grounds.

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