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Pulse of a new era: Halifax Regional, Sentara merge

Halifax Regional Health System announced Friday its board of directors has unanimously agreed to enter into a merger agreement with Sentara Healthcare.

Sentara operates more than 100 sites of care serving residents across Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

The system is comprised of 10 acute care hospitals, including seven in Hampton Roads, one in Northern Virginia and two in the Blue Ridge region, advanced imaging centers, 10 nursing and assisted-living centers, outpatient campuses, a statewide home health and hospice agency, a 3,680-provided medical staff and three medical groups with 618 providers.

Sentara’s Heart Hospital/Sentara Norfolk General Hospital achieved a top-50 ranking in the annual U.S. News & World Report “Best Hospitals” issue.

“One of our primary focuses during this entire evaluation was protecting our employees and ensuring any partner we would work with in the future has a record of fantastic employee relations,” said Halifax Regional Health System CEO Chris Lumsden.

“Sentara does. They have a record of no layoffs and no employee reductions as a company which we thought was very impressive and quite frankly is consistent with our track record the last 25 years of having no layoffs.”

“They, too, have never had an employee layoff, and we thought that was impressive,” emphasized Lumsden.

“We thought that was evidence that they do respect and honor the employees who work with them, the entire Sentara Healthcare family.”

Sentara is based in Norfolk, and the majority of its facilities are in Hampton Roads and the Norfolk region, although they are now expanding with three recent partnerships in Charlottesville with Martha Jefferson Hospital, Rockingham Memorial Hospital in Harrisonburg and Potomac Hospital in Northern Virginia, according to Lumsden.

Sentara and Halifax Regional Health System are alike in that they provide a variety of services, Lumsden pointed out.

“We provide a variety of services, so we have a very significant scope of services, perhaps on a smaller scale which is very consistent with Sentara,” said Lumsden.

Sentara also carries an insurance product known as Optima Care, with 450,000 subscribers, also an advantage in a partnership, Lumsden added.

“I think we would all like in this industry to be independent, stand alone for years, and there are advantages to that, but there are disadvantages to that,” explained Lumsden.

“Our view was, while we’re strong and not in a desperate situation, and we’re far from that, it would be best to consider options, consider partners while we have time to digest these options in a very thoughtful way.

“That’s exactly what we’ve done in the past two years, and the end result was a unanimous decision by our board of directors supported fully by our executive management team.

“Sentara is an excellent health system with a solid reputation for providing outstanding services to its patients,” said Dave White, chairman of the HRHS Board of Directors.

“We are thrilled to partner with this outstanding organization to ensure HRHS can continue to meet the health care needs of our community and region and offer even more services than before.

“Sentara is an outstanding Virginia-based, non-profit integrated health system, and they enjoy an excellent reputation for providing quality health care services to the people whom they serve.”

Dave Bernd, CEO of Sentara Healthcare, said he’s seen Halifax Regional Health System develop into the number one regional health care system in the state of Virginia.

“We’re an organization like yours, non-profit and community based,” said Bernd, who noted Sentara has consistently been ranked as one of the top most integrated health care systems in the nation by SDI Health and Modern Healthcare magazine. 

“What we want to learn from you is how you’ve developed such a great rural health care system,” added Bernd. “I know you had many suitors.”

Dr. James Priest, medical staff president for Halifax Regional Health System, emphasized the physicians at the hospital had a tremendous input into the decision.

A total of 10 members of the board of directors are physicians, noted Priest.

“We’ve all had an opportunity to sit down with physicians from Sentara and discuss with them what it’s like to operate in a system like this individually and professionally,” said Priest.

“Sentara supports their physicians, not just the physicians they employ, they support the private practitioners and everything they do to make the hospital better,” said Priest.

“One of the main things we looked at with other organizations was ask did their culture fit, and I can say after looking at this for two years, the culture of Sentara definitely fits. They are us, we are Sentara, and we’re together.”

His interest in Sentara was more than simply professional, added Priest.

“I’ve been here in Halifax County going on 63 years now, and I’ve had an associated practice here for over 33 years,” he noted.

“It was more than a professional decision I was going to make, it was a personal decision.

“Half my children still live here. My grandchildren still live here, and I want in 20-30 years for them to have a quality health care system even after I’m gone. Sentara is the best choice we could have made.”

Lumsden recalled a number of meetings and more than 15 off-site visits in making the decision to merge with Sentara.

“What impressed me from the very beginning was the board first established five key underlining objectives they desired to fulfill at the end of project,” said Lumsden. “They were very much consistent with the mission and core values of Halifax Regional Health System.

“The first is to partner and protect the mission and core values of Halifax Regional Health System. The second is to have a partner for Halifax Regional Health System to best meet the long term health care needs of the region. Third, to expand services and improve clinical care and operational efficiency.

“Fourth, observe shared governance to the greatest extent possible to protect employees of this organization, 1,250 strong now, and the medical staff.

“Last, to position Halifax Regional Health System to best compete as a high quality health provider in a very dynamic, very changing industry and environment.”

Criteria used to make the decision included the mission, culture and financial strength of the partner, along with its track record, according to Lumsden.

“Sentara is an outstanding health care system, a Virginia-based, very mission-driven, not-for-profit organization,” concluded Lumsden. “The management team was 100 percent in support of this decision. It will allow us to continue to grow as we’ve done the past 25 years.”

Halifax Regional Health System (HRHS) encompasses a 192-bed hospital, three long-term care facilities comprising 348 beds, including The Woodview, Seasons at The Woodview and MeadowView Terrace, Halifax Home Health and Halifax Regional Hospice and the Physician Hospital Enterprise.

Over the next few months, Halifax Regional Health System will work with Sentara to undergo a due diligence phase as well as a regulatory review before completing the merger.