Marshfield Clinic, Gundersen exploring merger

If the proposed merger between Marshfield Clinic Health System and Gundersen Health System goes through, the combined system could serve patients in more than 50 counties in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.  


That’s according to Gundersen CEO Scott Rathgaber, who says more than 2 million people live in the area the combined organizations would cover. These mostly rural residents are spread over thousands of miles, and he says they’re often underserved compared to urban inhabitants.


“That’s the challenge; how do we bring care to people as close to home as possible?” Rathgaber said yesterday during a conference call. “It’s what we’re committed to doing.”


Lacking broadband internet and easy interstate access puts these people at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing care. Rathgaber says the potential merger will “only strengthen our ability to bring services and concentrate resources” for these patients.


Altogether, the combined health system would have more than 2,000 care providers, 18,000 total employees, 13 hospitals and more than 100 clinics.


MCHS and Gundersen already have a similar mission, and they’ve both worked to improve access to care in rural areas with telemedicine and by training doctors and other clinicians to practice in these areas.

According to a joint release, the goal of the merger is to “collectively enhance the level of care” in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.


“With our new reach, scale and resources, we would be able to do more than we’re doing now to lower the cost of care, enhance patient experience and deliver the best outcomes of any rural health system in the country,” said Susan Turney, CEO of MCHS.


She says “a core commitment” has been made between the two groups, but many details are still up in the air.


Rathgaber says the systems are working toward a solution but they’re trying not to put any specific constraints on the process.


According to Jeffrey Starck, a spokesman for MCHS, the process will take several months.


“We don’t have a timeline but ideally we would have something by the end of the year,” Starck said in an email.


MCHS currently serves 30 counties in Wisconsin, while Gundersen serves 21 counties in western Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota and northeast Iowa. Starck says the two health systems have “very little” overlap in the patient populations they serve.


Both Gundersen and MCHS have their own separate health plans through Quartz and Security Health Plan, as well as separate ambulance and helicopter services. Rathgaber says the systems will have to discuss how these “third party” businesses will fit into any merged entity.


“We believe in the value of a provider-owned health plan,” he said. “We can bring more value to patients by controlling the relationship between health system and health plan.”


He says the organizations share a similar philosophy around these ancillary companies, but will still have to figure out how to structure those relationships if the merger occurs.


“I’m optimistic we can find solutions that serve both systems,” Rathgaber said.


See a map of care delivery service areas for the two systems:

–By Alex Moe