Nanticoke, Peninsula reach agreement to affiliate

SEAFORD — Top administrators from Seaford-based Nanticoke Health Services and Peninsula Regional Health System in Salisbury say high-level healthcare will continue and can only be enhanced through an affiliation of the two healthcare entities.

On Monday, boards of both healthcare systems reached a definitive agreement to affiliate in a membership substitution, which with final state and federal regulatory approval will pave the way for rebranding and operations as a single healthcare system.

Steve Rose, left, president/CEO of Nanticoke Health Services, and Steve Leonard, president/CEO of Peninsula Regional Health System, shake hands to commemorate the signing of the definitive agreement on the affiliation between the two healthcare entities. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe).

Final approvals are anticipated in November.

“We still have a step to go … but this a major milestone for us,” said Steve Rose, president/CEO of Nanticoke Health Services. “We have signed the affiliation agreement — some people call it the definitive agreement — and it really outlines the detail where we took the ideas from the letter of intent and formalized.”

The next step is a public review process with the Delaware Health Resources Board required through the state of Delaware. At the conclusion of the regulatory process, expected to be complete later this year, the affiliation would become final and the two organizations will begin the work of transitioning to one healthcare team.

“Sometime next calendar year we’re going to end up relaunching the health systems,” said Steve Leonard, Peninsula Regional Health System president/CEO. “So, both Nanticoke Memorial Hospital and Peninsula Regional Medical Center will retain their names, but we will rebrand under a new system name, much like when Kent General and Milford came together to form Bayhealth. It’s a similar process.”

About two years ago, Nanticoke began the search for a partner to help preserve and build upon the services it provides in Sussex County. Several months ago, Nanticoke signed a letter of intent to affiliate with PRHS.

“We took a long, deliberate search,” Mr. Rose said. “We looked at a lot of partners. All of them had great financial strengths just like Peninsula has, but the key element for Peninsula was really the culture, how our cultures fit together, and how their vision and values match our vision and values. We really think this is a great fit.”

Now secure with the signing of the definitive agreement, that transition will follow a structured plan.

Nanticoke will continue to provide services in Sussex County and parts of Maryland’s Mid-Shore.

Meanwhile, Peninsula Regional Health System, which has a decades-long presence in Sussex County, will help to strengthen and enhance Nanticoke’s efforts through integrated care, expanding services where needed and making more readily accessible the Delmarva Peninsula’s most advanced tertiary care services.

“I think together we are going to be bettered positioned, especially for a rapidly-growing Sussex County,” Mr. Leonard said. “Nanticoke has had some limitations in terms of investing in really what’s needed to take care of such a rapidly growing county. But together we are going to be really well-positioned to help manage that.”

In the membership substitution, Nanticoke Health Services goes away and Nanticoke Health Services, Nanticoke Memorial Hospital and Nanticoke Physician Network become entities of Peninsula Regional Health System, along with Peninsula Regional Medical Center, Mr. Rose said.

“We’re going to keep the Nanticoke name in the hospital,” said Mr. Rose.

The Peninsula Regional Health System Board of Directors, working closely with their Nanticoke Health Services counterparts, will oversee the transition.

Mr. Leonard will remain president/CEO of the new health system and be responsible for executive leadership, including the Nanticoke additions.

No immediate changes in staffing or the delivery of healthcare at either system are anticipated once the affiliation happens.

“Right now, the two teams are coming together to really understand how to operate after we become one system,” said Mr. Leonard. “But as we characterize, it’s more of a marathon than a sprint. We wouldn’t expect any major changes on day one. Our primary goal is that both institutions keep doing really great things on day one just like they did the day prior. And we will look at how do we come together to learn from each other and operate more efficiently while maintaining the high quality of service that we have always had.”

Under the affiliation, cancer treatment will include the Richard A. Henson Cancer Institute at Peninsula Regional Medical Center in downtown Salisbury and Peninsula’s second comprehensive center near Berlin, along with Nanticoke’s Allen Cancer Center and McCready Health of Crisfield, Maryland, which recently signed a definitive agreement to also join PRHS.

That process with McCready is undergoing a similar regulatory review and expected to be finalized in late 2019.

“That’s a great opportunity because we are going to be able to provide a level of clinical integration between the three cancer centers, essentially,” Mr. Leonard said.

Once complete, the new health system — including Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, Peninsula Regional Medical Center and McCready — will be renamed in a rebranding process.

“We’re going to be engaging a firm to kind of help us through this process,” said Mr. Leonard. “It will flow through to not just the name but how do we label buildings, signage — I mean there is quite a bit of stuff — colors, you name it.”

The Nanticoke, PRMC and McCready names that people have associated with exceptional healthcare services for decades will remain at the existing hospitals and health centers under the governance of the new health system.

Mr. Rose referred to strength in numbers.

“Think about our physician groups,” said Mr. Rose. “We have Nanticoke Physician Network. They have a physician network. Now, what we are going to be able to do is pull those together. And it’s not just co-bining two groups, but it is actually creating a bigger enterprise of physicians that is really going to contribute to the overall healthcare of Delawareans, particularly in western Sussex County. Now our physicians will have a bigger pool of specialists that they can refer to as well.”

Mr. Leonard said Peninsula Regional Health System “is honored to have this opportunity to bring the Nanticoke team together with ours to form an unparalleled partnership of healthcare excellence. Our missions are nearly identical, and each of us has an unwavering commitment to enhancing high-quality health and wellness through best practices across the Delmarva Peninsula.”

“In order for Nanticoke to further its mission to provide the best care possible for our community, it became imperative we find a strong, compatible healthcare partner,” said Mr. Rose. “Peninsula Regional has always been a supportive ally and great neighbor, sharing a similar mission and culture. Together we will continue and grow the legacy of high quality healthcare for our community.”

“For us what is important is that this is a really positive move for Nanticoke. That is really important for people to understand, that this is good for the county, it’s good for our employees, it’s good for businesses here,” said Mr. Rose.

“I think it is an exciting endeavor. I think our board is excited. We are going to have a couple of seats on the Peninsula Regional Health System board, so we are looking for that continuity and that input. I think it’s really going to work out very well for Nanticoke and western Sussex County.”

Augmenting the announcement is word that Penny Short — Nanticoke’s chief operating officer/chief nursing officer — was nominated by the Nanticoke board and approved by Peninsula’s board as next president of Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.

“I think the important thing is that our staff here and the community are going to see familiar faces in administration. That’s really important to us,” said Mr. Rose, who focused on his future plans. “Steve Rose’s future is to see all of this work through, and sometime next year I’ll figure out what my next step is.”

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