Broadwater Health Center is now pursuing a new partnership with Billings Clinic – which could lead to the larger organization taking an ownership share in the Townsend hospital.
BHC announced this week that its board of directors had voted unanimously to pursue the partnership. Leaders say the agreement could give them needed support to improve and expand their care.
“We really think that with this affiliation, the Billings Clinic can bring a lot of their expertise in providing services, growing services – as well as working with our neighbor health systems to the north and south,” said BHC administrator Kyle Hopstad.
“We really felt that the long-term viability of a critical access hospital in Townsend had probably its best future with a health system that has got a lot of experience over 25 to 30 years in working with the small critical access hospitals in the state of Montana,” Hopstad said.
Billings Clinic leaders say they see partnering with BHC and other critical access hospitals as part of a commitment to improving rural health care in the state.
“At the end of the day, our hope is that when you live in this community, you can count on that health care organization to be there for you,” said Jim Duncan, president of the Billings Clinic Foundation.
Duncan said this agreement would also continues Billings Clinic’s growth, as the organization now has part-ownership of Community Medical Center in Missoula, operates a number of branch clinics, and is planning a new medical center in Bozeman.
BHC’s planned partnership with Billings Clinic comes three months after it was announced the hospital had entered a 90-day due diligence period for a formal affiliation with St. Peter’s Health in Helena. However, Hopstad said that was never an exclusive agreement.
“One of the things that we felt obligated to do in search of trying to find the best partner is see what else is offered out there,” he said.
St. Peter’s CEO Wade Johnson said, during their discussions with BHC, his organization began to have some concerns about the Townsend hospital’s process for selecting a partner.
“I think we just felt that there was a difference in direction, perhaps, for the future,” he said.
Johnson said St. Peter’s was disappointed in BHC’s decision, but that they want to continue expanding health care service in Broadwater County. They are now planning to open their own health clinic in Townsend, which will provide services like primary care, urgent care, visiting specialists, laboratory and imaging.
“We have lots of patients in Broadwater County who have come to St. Peter’s for many, many years,” Johnson said. “We have employees that are in that community as well, so our focus is really about taking care of them and being able to add new services and expand services for the community.”
St. Peter’s said in a statement that a location for the new clinic has already been chosen, and that it is expected to open by the end of the year.
Hopstad said, despite BHC and St. Peter’s not reaching an agreement, the two organizations will continue to have a long-term working relationship.
“The beauty of the discussions that we’ve had – they’ve learned a lot about us and we’ve learned a lot about them, and I think it really can provide a basis for a stronger relationship,” he said.
BHC and Billings Clinic are now entering a 90-day due diligence period for their partnership. Duncan said they are currently looking at “full integration,” meaning Billings Clinic would take an ownership stake in the Townsend hospital. However, he said the details may still be adjusted over the coming months, especially as leaders take input from the public. They are planning to hold community meetings to get feedback.
“A lot of questions will be asked, and hopefully there will be a lot of answers,” said Hopstad.
Hopstad said, if everything goes smoothly, the partnership could go into effect around October.