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St. Mary's is now Essentia Health



Forum Communications Co.

Innovis Health's name change to Essentia Health came after almost a year of discussion and is a "natural evolution" of the two health systems' merger in January 2008, the Fargo hospital's top administrator said Thursday.

During a news conference to roll out the new name, logo and tagline, "Here with you," Innovis Chief Administrative Officer Kevin Pitzer indicated the name change wasn't a reaction to main competitor MeritCare's switch to the Sanford Health brand six weeks ago.

"MeritCare changed their name? Wow. We've been a little focused. I didn't know that," Pitzer joked.

On a more serious note, Pitzer said the idea of unifying Essentia Health's facilities under one name arose almost a year ago in a discussion among leaders of the Duluth-based system about whether it was positioned to address the challenges of the evolving health care industry.

"And I think the collective answer of our leadership ... was, 'You know what? We feel we can do better. We need to do more.' And part of that is looking at how we hold ourselves out to the public, and certainly the brand became a discussion of that," he said.

St. Mary's Innovis Health in Detroit Lakes will become Essentia -- St. Mary's, said CEO Tom Thompson. But there's a lot more to the change than just switching names.

Thompson pointed out that St. Mary's has been part of the Essentia organization since 2004, "we just haven't told anybody about it." Essentia has been "one of the best kept healthcare secrets in the Midwest," he joked.

Essentia will provide the local care that patients want, while being part of a larger organization and leveraging that size to provide better patient care.

Health "collaboratives" are being set up, he said, including one led by Dr. Abigail Ring of Detroit Lakes to staff family practice and emergency care physicians across the system.

That will allow Essentia to fill temporary shortages from within the organization rather than bringing in outside physicians, Thompson said.

Other collaborative efforts will focus on lab work, imaging and pharmacy.

Best practices will be formally implemented across the organization, Thompson added.

He said Essentia is unusual in that it will not funnel patients to Fargo, but will be designed to take care of patients across rural Minnesota.

"Our philosophy has been to provide the best care we can locally -- by bringing care out into the communities. That is distinctive to us," said Thompson.

For example, St. Mary's does not serve a large enough population -- especially with a split market with Sanford Health -- to hire a full-time eye, ear and throat specialist.

But Essentia hiring will be done by region, not by institution, so such a specialist could split his or her schedule by traveling to Detroit Lakes, Fargo, Jamestown and Ada,

"I'm pretty pumped about this," Thompson said. "We'll deliver care as a region instead of an institution."

Innovis patients are being directly informed of the change, and phone operators will start using the Essentia Health name within the next couple of weeks, Pitzer said.

Replacing the signs on Essentia's 62 clinics and 17 hospitals will be a multi-month process, Pitzer said. Officials don't know yet what it will cost, he said.

Starting the process now ensures that all Essentia facilities will be under the same name by the time a new electronic health record system is fully implemented, which Pitzer expects to happen within the next 14 months.

The system will improve efficiency by making a patient's records accessible at any facility in Essentia's network, he said.

Patients shouldn't notice any major differences as a result of the name change, but rather gradual improvements as the health system's integration continues, officials said.

For example, Bridges Medical Center in Ada just started a shared maternity program, bringing an ob-gyn doctor from Innovis to Ada twice a month so expectant mothers don't have to drive to Fargo for appointments, said Peter Jacobson, senior vice president of region and clinic operations.

The name change also won't affect staffing decisions, Pitzer said. Essentia continues to try to find the right mix of staff, which may involve hiring in some areas and not filling open positions in others, he said.

Essentia Health is a not-for-profit system operating in Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

The rebranding involves four health care systems coming together as Essentia Health: SMDC Health System, Brainerd Lakes Health, Innovis Health and Essentia Community Hospitals and Clinics.

In Essentia's west region, the name change will affect Innovis Health locations in North Dakota and Minnesota; Bridges Medical Center in Ada; St. Mary's Innovis Health in Detroit Lakes; and First Care Innovis Health in Fosston.

By the numbers

Essentia Health is based in Duluth and operates facilities in Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

The not-for-profit system has:

• 13,000 employees

• 750 physicians

• 62 clinics

• 17 hospitals

• 6 long-term care facilities

• 5 assisted living or independent living facilities. Source: Essentia Health.

(Mike Nowatski writes for the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Nathan Bowe writes for Detroit Lakes Newspapers.)