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Barton merges with Washoe; joint venture provides better health coverage

A joint board of Barton HealthCare and Washoe Health System representatives meets today with a brand-new spanking baby in its hands.

Exemplifying a growth trend in health care, South Shore-based Barton HealthCare has finalized an agreement with Washoe Health System of Reno to share ownership of Carson Valley Medical Center in Gardnerville.

The Carson Valley outpatient facility was built in 1994, doubled its size in an expansion two years later and, since its inception, has been operated by Barton.



The community-based health care system approached Washoe five years ago with the idea of a joint venture that would give Barton access to more resources and move the Reno system south into a growth market.

“We’ve been interested in a partnership in an area of growth that will continue to grow,” Barton Chief Executive Officer Bill Gordon said. “(Barton), by ourselves, couldn’t meet the needs of the (Carson Valley) community with the needs of the lake. Between the two of us, it’s much easier to get that done.”




Kathy Triplett, vice president of chief financial officer for Washoe Health System, said, “That’s a growth area. To have a presence in that area is important to us.”

As private entities, Barton and Washoe declined to disclose the amount of the business deal. Nevertheless, Triplett did indicate that Washoe took on assumed debt from Carson Valley, following appraisals in the beginning and end of the process. The monies go into a board discretionary fund.

No layoffs nor changes in patient care or policies are planned in the first year. A reassessment of the 60,000-square-foot facility will take place to determine how to best meet the needs of the community.

Currently, Carson Valley employs 120 staffers in a variety of departments, including radiology with MRI and CT capabilities, an emergency room with ambulatory surgery, rehabilitation and respiratory units, home health and hospice, physical therapy, along with an orthopedic clinic, pharmacy and physician offices, Barton spokeswoman Norma Corder said. Stan Oppegard is the center administrator.

Barton management is interested in enhancing its health care service in Carson Valley by tapping into Washoe’s expansive resources, such as an extensive medical library.

In the Reno-Sparks area, Washoe operates a 529-bed medical center, a skilled nursing facility, home health care agency, acute rehabilitation center, a pediatric intensive care unit and Hometown Health, a health maintenance organization, Triplett said.

“It’s great for (patients) not to drive to Reno to get the service right in town,” Corder said.

Talk of transforming the outpatient facility into an inpatient center hasn’t been ruled out, both parties said. The change would directly compete with nearby Carson-Tahoe Hospital.

The partnership comes as a blow to officials at the Carson City hospital, which operates the Minden Emergency/Urgent Care Center.

“It bothers me. I see it as an out and open challenge to our hospital,” Carson-Tahoe Hospital executive Steve Smith said. “It will have serious consequences to our financial bottom line.”

Given the competition, Smith fears the Minden clinic will go under and therefore take its chemical dependency and pschycological counseling services out of the market. Behavioral health often represents a money pit for health care companies.

Smith has no qualms about sharing the market with Barton but questions why Washoe would consider the Carson Valley “its market.”

“Are they telling us we’re not serving the area?” he asked. “Now do we get a big brother too?”

But Carson-Tahoe Hospital has a standing invitation to become a third partner, Gordon said.

“They brought the facility there long after ours was built,” he said, referring to the Minden clinic.

Barton is open to conducting another survey to evaluate what services the Carson Valley community is looking for in a health-care agency, Gordon indicated.

“Joint ventures are much more typical, with hospitals either doing it or inviting each other to do it,” said Dan Hawkins, policy analyst for the National Association of Community Health Care Centers. The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group works to assure continued growth in community-based health care programs for medically underserved populations.

Federally funded organizations such as Washoe Health Care receive grant money to help subsidize uninsured patients, the number of which is on the rise.

And gone are the days of the fat subsidies, as the government through the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 clamps down on health care reimbursements.

“Hospitals are finding themselves struggling to stay financially alive,” Hawkins said. “This deal has the potential of a win-win for most people.” he added, referencing the two health care companies and the under- or uninsured.

More than 42 million Americans were uninsured last year, the U.S. Census Bureau released data last month. That’s more than 15 percent of the population.


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