Merger to give Billings Clinic access to more doctors, officials say

2014-03-28T17:40:00Z 2014-03-31T08:13:06Z Merger to give Billings Clinic access to more doctors, officials sayBy ERIK OLSON eolson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Billings Clinic patients should have access to more specialists and better technology once the purchase of a Missoula hospital is complete, clinic officials said Friday.

The pending merger with Community Health Center likely will keep costs down for patients and give the Billings Clinic greater financial stability, officials said.

“We see opportunities for some growth,” Dr. Nicholas Wolter, Billings Clinic CEO, said Friday.

The nonprofit Billings Clinic is Montana’s largest health care provider and Yellowstone County’s biggest employer, operating a 285-bed hospital in Billings. The clinic manages 11 critical-access hospitals in eastern and central Montana and multiple branch clinics.

If state regulators approve, the merger would represent the largest in Billings Clinic’s history. Wolter said he expects it will be finalized in six to eight months.

Nationwide, hospital mergers have increased in recent years as officials look for ways to keep costs down amid changing health care regulations.

“There’s more and more need to partner (to take advantage of) economies of scale and also how we learn from each other. Those trends are causing collaboration and partnerships,” Wolter said.

The mergers are also increasing in size. In 2013, the total value of hospital mergers grew 9 percent to $135.3 billion from the previous year, even though the total number fell by one-third, according to the American Hospital Association Resource Center. Industry experts say providers are eyeing larger clinics and hospitals to increase patient counts and streamline costs.

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