Southern Regional, Emory Healthcare move toward merger

Once upon a time, if you lived in Fayette County and needed to go to the hospital, most often you’d end up at what was then called Clayton General Hospital in Riverdale. There was no comparable medical facility in Fayette, the closest other choices being two competing small hospitals in Newnan, as well as one in Griffin and one in East Point.

Many years and several name changes later — with some intervening hard times — the Southern Regional Health System is getting ready to merge with the other big player in the healthcare field in the Atlanta metro area, Emory Healthcare, Inc.

The biggest player in Atlanta is non-profit Piedmont with its growing hospital network, including Piedmont Fayette Hospital in Fayetteville, and the ever-expanding allied group, Piedmont Physicians.

Fayette has had its own hospital since the mid-1990s.

The second-tier competitors are fighting to retain market share. To that end, Southern Regional and Emory moved a step closer toward a working relationship this month with an agreement to enter into negotiations for Emory to manage Southern Regional and to integrate the Riverdale, Ga., health system into its healthcare network.

The preliminary agreement also includes potential for future collaboration with some of Emory University’s health-related education programs.

“With this letter of intent, we commit to ensuring a strong and viable healthcare presence in the Southern Crescent by working with Emory on formalizing a management agreement,” said Jim Crissey, president and CEO of Southern Regional.

“Having accomplished that task, it is our intent to participate in Emory’s Clinically Integrated Network in the Southern Crescent. This will not only further the clinical and operational objectives of both organizations, but will enhance the future for quality healthcare in the Southern Crescent,” Crissey said.

“We will work diligently with Southern Regional to formalize a management agreement and to integrate Southern Regional into our clinical network,” said John Fox, president and CEO of Emory Healthcare. “When an agreement is reached, it will establish Southern Regional as a hospital partner in the Emory Clinically Integrated Network in the Southern Crescent area.”

The agreement reached as of May 10, although nonbinding, commits the two health systems to enter into good-faith negotiations toward a management agreement and also outlines the structure of an affiliation between the two health systems:

• Southern Regional’s quality programs would blend with Emory’s, and Emory would work on implementation of its quality programs and initiatives at Southern Regional.

• Southern Regional’s quality, financial and operational direction would be established with guidance from Emory Healthcare.

• Emory Healthcare would strengthen physician partnerships and its presence in the Southern Crescent, while increasing access for patients.

Crissey cited Emory Healthcare’s commitment to high quality care, strong local presence, proven financial strength and solid reputation as deciding factors in Southern Regional’s Board of Directors’ decision to move forward with Emory.

“Our board is confident that Emory’s mission aligns closely with our own and our shared values will help us to form a successful partnership,” said CEO Crissey. “Most importantly, a partnership with Emory Healthcare will preserve access to high quality care for the communities we serve,” he said. “Our goal is clear: To ensure that Southern Regional remains in this community and continues to provide vital medical care to its citizens.”