Health Care Access, Heartland Community Health Center considering potential merger

Health Care Access and Heartland Community Health Center

Two of Lawrence’s primary safety-net health care providers, Health Care Access and Heartland Community Health Center, have reached a tentative agreement to merge the two health care organizations.

The news of a potential integration of the two agencies first came during Wednesday’s Lawrence Memorial Hospital board of trustees meeting, where LMH CEO Russ Johnson shared the news with hospital leaders that the two health care agencies “are having very close conversations about integrating and becoming one community organization.”

“We have a request from Heartland Community Health Center, which is the federally qualified health center safety net partner of ours. They’re in discussions with Health Care Access, also a safety net organization,” Johnson said Wednesday.

Wednesday evening the two organizations released a joint statement confirming that Heartland and Health Care Access had signed a non-binding letter of intent to merge.

“This is just the beginning of something new, exciting and hopeful in health care for Lawrence and Douglas County,” said Heartland CEO Jon Stewart. “The shortcomings of our health care system have yet to be adequately addressed in Topeka, KS and Washington DC. A major part of the answer is to have a robust multi-disciplinary system of primary medical, behavioral and oral health care. Local collaboration is one attainable step in that direction.”

“The potential for our organizations to leverage the talents and assets entrusted to us together is exciting,” said Health Care Access CEO Beth Llewellyn. “Along with LMH, and other health care organizations in this community, we are collaborating in ways that will overcome barriers to care and create healthier people and communities.”

LMH leadership has “encouraged” integration for several years now, Johnson said. He also told board members on Wednesday that Heartland leaders had approached the hospital with a request for an unspecified one-time contribution “to offset the costs” of the potential merger, as well as a $250,000 operational loan for renovations to existing facilities.

Johnson said he anticipated the integration would become effective Jan. 1, 2018, with the understanding that both organizations “are fully engaged in integration planning.” In the joint release, the two organizations did not provide a specific timeline for the merger to be finalized, but said it likely would “take a number of months.”

Heartland Community Health Center serves Douglas County and surrounding areas with primary care, mental health care, psychiatry, dental care, physical therapy and a variety of assistance programs and wrap-around services. They offer care to all community members in their catchment area, regardless of income or insurance status.

Health Care Access has been a health care provider to persons with limited financial means in Douglas County for 29 years. The clinic provides a comprehensive care approach with three medical provider teams, counseling, referral and wellness services.