Avera, Carris Health moving forward together

Officials talk about the road ahead, as the former ACMC clinic joins Avera Marshall

The former ACMC clinic in Marshall is now part of Avera Marshall, as new signs around the clinic campus showed this week. The clinic and surgery center integrated with Avera Marshall as of Jan. 1.

MARSHALL — A big part of the their look had changed — all the building and parking lot signs at the former ACMC clinic in Marshall now had the Avera logo.

But, as physicians and administrators pointed out Friday, the work to integrate the clinic and surgery center into Avera Marshall was far from over. A team of people working on the technological part of the transition were busy in the same room while a panel of leaders from Avera Marshall and Carris Health talked about their future together.

Bringing Avera Marshall and Carris Health Marshall together “Benefits all of us, the community and most of all the patients,” said Mary Maertens, Avera Marshall regional president and CEO.

“It’s an exciting day today,” said Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith, co-CEO of Carris Health.

In September, Avera announced that Avera Marshall and Carris Health Marshall, a division of CentraCare, would be integrating the Carris Health clinic and surgery center in Marshall into Avera Marshall.

Carris Health was formed last year, through a partnership of Affiliated Community Medical Centers, Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar, and CentraCare, a health care system based in central Minnesota.

The Carris Health clinic and surgery center in Marshall officially became part of Avera Marshall on Jan. 1. Friday’s panel focused on explaining what that would mean for local health care.

As part of the integration, the former ACMC clinic on Carlson Street will become an Avera Medical Group location, and the former surgery center will become Avera Surgery Center. The 150 Carris Health employees in Marshall will become Avera employees.

The integration means there are now more than 100 Avera Medical Group doctors and advanced practice providers in the Marshall region, Maertens said.

For Carris Health, Avera made sense as a partner in the Marshall area, Firkins Smith said. Joining Avera Marshall would also offer some benefits for both area patients and health care providers. It would expand the resources available to both the clinic and hospital. Another big change is that the clinic and surgery center will have the same electronic records system as the hospital. Being able to share information more smoothly between locations will be a strength for patient care, said Dr. Curtis Louwagie.

Both Maertens and Dr. Steven Meister, a physician and vice president of clinical support services for Carris Health, said integration would help with staff recruitment, something that’s a challenge across greater Minnesota.

“It’s harder and harder to recruit people to rural America,” Meister said.

And with the addition of staff from Carris Health Marshall, Maertens said, “We’ve been able to address some work-life balance for physicians.”

Maertens said there are no plans to downsize staff or change any of the clinic and surgery center’s services. Services including physician outreach services, urgent care, diabetes care and outpatient infusions will stay the same, Avera Marshall representatives said.

“As time progresses, Avera Marshall will be evaluating all services within our community to learn how we can best integrate them,” Maertens said.

Maertens said fully integrating Avera Marshall and Carris Health Marshall was a process that will continue through this year, and likely into 2020.

“It is an ongoing, continual process,” Firkins Smith added.

Physicians said the transition to becoming part of Avera was something patients have been asking about for a long time already. Dr. Jill Vroman, a physician with Carris Health Marshall, said some of the most common questions have been about whether people can continue to see their doctors. That shouldn’t change, she said.

“They still will be able to see whoever they want to see,” Vroman said.

Vroman acknowledged that the check-in process at the clinic is taking longer, while the clinic switches over to the new electronic records system. But that will be temporary, and in the meantime patient care should still be the same, she said.

The Carlson Street clinic’s regular hours will continue to be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with urgent care available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The phone number to call for clinic appointments will also stay the same, at 507-532-1101.