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Bellin Health, Gundersen Health System “deep into” merger discussions

Bellin Health CEO Chris Woleske says the merger is happening in part due to supply chain issues and the economic landscape.
Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 2:00 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 1, 2022 at 4:46 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Two Wisconsin-based health care groups, Bellin Health and Gundersen Health System, announced Wednesday they are “deep into discussions” of a merger.

Bellin, based in Green Bay, serves Northeast Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Gundersen, based in La Crosse, serves western Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota and northeast Iowa. Together, they would operate 11 hospitals and more than 100 clinics. Both are non-profits and employ more than 15,000 people.

Bellin Health CEO Chris Woleske says the merger is happening in part due to supply chain issues and the economic landscape.

“What I see happening as we come together through a merged entity is our ability to look across our geography and bring our supplies to the place that needs them most. So we would have a larger supply chain to work with and I think that would be very helpful to us,” Woleske said.

Bellin and Gundersen expect a final agreement to be completed within weeks. Even after they agree to conditions, the merger will need regulatory review.

Leaders of both health systems stressed during a virtual news conference on Wednesday that there will be no layoffs.

“We really don’t see this as a decrease in workforce in any way shape or form, as we’re not consolidating services within one geography,” Dr. Scott Rathgaber, Chief Executive Officer of Gundersen, said. “It’s one of the benefits of having separate geography is that we will continue to provide those local jobs.”

They said patients will continue seeing the same health care providers and over time will see more resources across a bigger health care network, state-of-the-art technology, and more virtual care options at home and work.

Virtual care is an area they view as important in reaching rural areas.

“We can reach more patients using technology by virtual visits and video visits, etcetera. And it’s expensive technology,” Woleske said. “But together if we pull our resources and we invest in that technology, just think of what we can do in reaching people who hadn’t had great access to healthcare.”

In correspondence to current patients, Bellin wrote, “You should know that the same providers you know and trust will still be here, along with the high level of personalized care you expect. Over time, you will have access to more resources and a broader healthcare network, further improving the care you have come to know and trust from Bellin Health.”

According to the two health systems, they would keep their respective headquarters in Green Bay and La Crosse, with Gundersen’s Dr. Scott Rathgaber becoming the system CEO and the chair of the Bellin Health Board of Directors, John Dykema, becoming chairman of the new health system’s board. In a news release, Bellin and Gundersen said placing leaders in different regions will ensure “shared decision-making and equal representation.” Bellin’s current CEO, Chris Woleske, will be an executive vice president and Regional President of the Northern Counties.

“We are two not-for-profit health systems that take what we earn and reinvest those dollars back into our communities and into patient care,” Rathberger said in Wednesday’s media release where the proposed merger was announced. “We invest dollars to improve health outcomes, specifically for marginalized individuals and broadly for everyone in our care. Through this model, we also work hard to lower or maintain premiums on health plans, which reduces costs for the employers and businesses we serve.”

“As health systems, our missions, visions and values complement each other, and the people and communities we serve are at the core of the care and service we provide,” Woleske wrote. “Joining together would allow us to maintain and enhance the top-quality care to which our patients and communities are accustomed — and ensure that care endures for another 100 years and beyond.”

Bellin Health CEO Chris Woleske says the merger is happening in part due to supply chain issues and the economic landscape.

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