Friday, Apr. 28, 2023–7:26 a.m.
-John Bailey and John Druckenmiller, Rome News-Tribune-
This story is possible because of a news-sharing agreement with the Rome News-Tribune. More information can be found at northwestgeorgianews.com.
An announcement concerning the switchover of a number of Harbin Clinic doctors to AdventHealth Redmond underscores a rift in the physicians group over the merger with Atrium Health Floyd.
The deal between Atrium and Harbin Clinic has been dominating conversation among medical professionals in Rome since it was first confirmed in December.
AdventHealth Redmond said Thursday that a group of 8 cardiologists from Harbin had signed contracts committing to AdventHealth. Dr. Michael Ware, Dr. Charles Jackson, Dr. Kipp Slicker, Dr. Robert Styperek, Dr. Andrew McCue, Dr. Spencer Maddox, Dr. Justin Tanner and Dr. Hunter Myers have all signed on at Redmond.
“We are proud of our legacy of providing world-class health care as the region’s heart care leader. Adding these cardiologists to our team of skilled providers will allow AdventHealth Redmond to expand its advanced cardiac care and better serve Northwest Georgia and Alabama,” said Isaac Sendros, president and CEO of AdventHealth Redmond. “We look forward to working more closely with this group of experts to continue to provide whole-person care to our communities.”
Working toward affiliation
Harbin, one of the largest privately owned, multi-specialty physician groups in Georgia, supplies specialized physician services and other medical support for area and regional hospitals. The practice is comprised of 240 medical professionals representing 40 different medical specialties and services.
For much of the past several weeks, those with direct ties to the medical community — physicians, spouses, support, and others — have shared both unconfirmed exodus rumors and long-term patient care and cost concerns.
“Harbin Clinic continues to work toward an affiliation with Atrium Health. We recently became aware of a small group of providers who are exploring other opportunities,” Harbin CEO Kenna Stock said. “Harbin Clinic remains steadfast in its commitment to our community and in serving the needs of our patients across all medical specialties, including cardiovascular care.”
A statement from Floyd’s -president and CEO, Kurt Stuenkel, mirrored that sentiment.
“Atrium Health Floyd and Harbin Clinic have a long history of working together to bring excellent clinical care to northwest Georgia and northeast Alabama,” Stuenkel said. “We continue to believe the proposed affiliation between Atrium Health Floyd and Harbin Clinic will further enhance our legacies of working together to care for the patients and communities we are both privileged to serve.”
Two specialties within Harbin have been the focus of speculation: cardiovascular and oncology. The announcement from Redmond following inquiries from the Rome News-Tribune on Thursday confirmed the former, while insiders say it’s still too early to tell on the latter.
“Despite any rumored changes, Harbin Clinic will still offer the same comprehensive healthcare services in the future that we offer today,” Stock said. “We are privileged to have served Northwest Georgia for more than 150 years and look forward to continuing to do so for generations to come.”
Also in the mix are concerns about contract enforcement and exactly where exiting physicians would be allowed to work for the first six or more months after a breakaway. Both Calhoun and Cartersville options are said to be under review. Other reports say there would be a “break-up cost” faced by any exiting physician.
Despite that, the doctors at Harbin Clinic stand to make a pretty penny from the deal. The market for physician groups continues at an all-time high.
While the specifics of this deal remain under wraps, in many sales the purchase price is divided among the number of partner doctors. For example, if a group is sold for $100 million and there are 50 partners, the takeaway for each doctor would be approximately $2 million.
Docs speak out about concerns
The Harbin doctors have been under a nondisclosure contract regarding the deal since taking a vote on the measure in the fall of 2022, however, recently several have said they could not agree to Atrium’s terms. They did not directly comment on what those terms were.
In a phone interview this week, a Harbin doctor who requested to be identified only as a local medical professional outlined his thoughts on the Atrium deal.
“The major concern is healthcare for Northwest Georgians and where it would go from here, the doctor said, “especially if we see an exodus of doctors… A lot of people are going to exit; that’s going to affect Rome in a negative way.”
The recruitment of replacement physicians would come under Atrium so the Harbin practice guidelines would move from private clinic to hospital-based, the doctor says.
The doctor speculated “one hospital will now control 95% of the physicians in town” and the doctor’s fear is medical costs would go up.
While there was no formal talk of another independent clinic forming with any breakaway doctors, the physician says there is optimism among some colleagues that the deal won’t be finalized, in part because of potential Federal Trade Commission concerns.
The Rome News-Tribune checked with the Federal Trade Commission as mergers similar to this one have been under review. The agency declined to comment or confirm whether an investigation has been enacted regarding the proposed merger.