Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

February 4, 2014

CMC joins Covenant Health

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — Cumberland Medical Center is now a part of the Covenant Health system, but the hospital will keep its name and its mission, to serve the health care needs of the community. The merger with Covenant Health, which was completed Feb. 1, will allow the hospital to better serve those health care needs, according to CMC leadership.

"This is an important day for Covenant Health,” said Anthony L. Spezia, president and CEO of the health system. “The outstanding physicians, caregivers, administration and support staff at Cumberland Medical Center have become part of a team of more than 10,000 health care professionals who share a commitment to provide the best possible patient care.”

Careful study

Covenant and CMC announced they were studying a possible merger in June 2013. Since that time, integration teams have performed needs assessments and planning projects across the many service areas of the hospital.

"For a number of years now, it has become more difficult for stand-alone, independent non-profit hospitals, such as ours, to survive in this particular environment," explained Ed Anderson, CMC chief executive officer.

One of the difficulties small, independent hospitals face is access to new technology and new treatment options for patients.

"We need resources we just didn't have," Anderson explained as he recounted the CMC move towards a merger.

"In doing so, we would be able to continue to have the type of hospital we have," Anderson said. "We would be able to offer more current technologies, perhaps, and additional services to our community. That's the reason we're here. That's the reason for this hospital."

They found Covenant Health, which operates a number of medical centers, physician groups and ancillary health care facilities in East Tennessee. CMC already had a relationship with Covenant, which had partnered with CMC to operate the Regional Cancer Center through Thompson Cancer Survival Center. Covenant Health is also a not-for-profit health care system, which was important to the CMC board, Anderson said.

"We felt like they represented more similarity to our way of providing these health care services," Anderson said. "We both came to the conclusion that, if we could come together, it would be more beneficial to everyone concerned."

Quality Care for the Community

Jeremy Biggs, vice president of operations, explained Covenant's health care system offers access to more technology and more specialty services than currently available, such as access to clinical trials.

"It's a way where we can bring those to the community," Biggs said.

Covenant will be looking at the services and facilities already in place at CMC. Among priorities will be bringing interventional cardiology services to the community.

But any changes in services or facilities will be carefully evaluated, Biggs said, with long-term plans and an eye on the needs of the community. The current CMC board of directors will be important in helping advise the Covenant board on local needs.

"Our approach is that we're here to invest in the communities, the personnel and the facilities," said Biggs. "We're not-for-profit. Our investments go back into the communities we serve. We don't have shareholders or stockholders we have to answer to. Our shareholders are the communities we are in."

Being part of a larger health care system can help in recruiting physicians, particularly specialists who want the to work with other specialists.

"One challenge that is not unique to Cumberland Medical Center is recruiting a specialist to be by themselves. Sometimes specialists like to be part of a larger group," explained Biggs. "We can work with physician groups to offer more hospitals for them to cover so that they can make a good living and provide more services."

Recruiting is ongoing for the interventional cardiology program, but Biggs said it may be possible for area specialists to help get the program started at CMC.

A History of Success

Covenant has been named among the top 100 integrated health systems in the country, demonstrating exceptional performance in clinical quality, access to services, information technology, financial stability, physicians and leadership.

Covenant's network now includes Cumberland Medical Center and eight other hospitals, all in Knoxville and the surrounding areas. Three of those acute care hospitals — Fort Sanders Regional, Methodist and Parkwest Medical Centers — were named among the top 10 hospitals in Tennessee in 2013 by U.S. News and World Report for excellence in both overall and specialty care. Fort Sanders is a Stroke Center of Excellence and the only facility in the region to hold both a Comprehensive Stroke Center Certification from the Joint Commission and three separate stroke accreditations from the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.

Covenant Health also provides numerous outpatient services and clinics. The health system also includes specialty providers of behavioral, oncology, and rehabilitation services, along with home care, physician clinics, and community wellness and outreach programs. Covenant Health has more than 10,000 employees, physicians, and volunteers systemwide.

In addition to previous collaborations with CMC, Covenant also includes Crossville Medical Group among its health care organization.

Biggs said Covenant will continue the insurance agreements in place at CMC, so patients won't have to worry about the hospital becoming out of network if their health insurance was accepted prior to the merger. There will be a number of events planned in coming weeks to celebrate the merger, with special events for employees, meetings with physicians and a community luncheon planned. Letters of welcome will be sent to employees, physicians and volunteers.