Mayo Clinic gains presence in Georgia

The renowned Mayo Clinic is entering Georgia for the first time, taking control of a health system in Waycross.

In a merger that is effective Thursday, Satilla Health Services –- featuring a 231-bed hospital and two nursing homes — will be renamed Mayo Clinic Health System in Waycross. No money exchanged hands in the deal, which has been in the works for two years.

Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic already has a main campus in Jacksonville, Fla., roughly 75 miles from the South Georgia city.

The new CEO of the Waycross organization, Dr. Kenneth Calamia, told Georgia Health News that Mayo is in discussions with other hospital systems in Florida and Georgia about similar moves.

“Conversations are going on throughout the Southeast to look for relationships and affiliations with Mayo,’’ said Calamia.

Beyond its famed medical complex in Rochester, Minn., and campuses in Arizona and Jacksonville, Mayo has a network of clinics and hospitals serving more than 70 communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

The merger continues the consolidation trend rampant among hospitals in Georgia and across the country. From metro Atlanta to South Georgia, hospitals are striking partnerships to try to survive and prosper in a rapidly changing health care landscape.
Robert Trimm, president and CEO of Satilla –- and newly appointed chief administrative officer of the new entity in Waycross –- cited the economic vulnerability of standalone hospitals at a time when health care is rapidly evolving and health reform is about to take full effect.

Steering a lone community hospital through those dizzying changes will be ‘‘challenging if not impossible,’’ Trimm said. “We’ll all need a big brother.’’

Trimm said the merger will allow a new medical office building to be constructed on the Satilla campus. “Space… to grow our medical staff has been a challenge,’’ he said.

Durham, N.C.-based consultant Craig Savage said Mayo appears to be developing a geographic presence in communities around Jacksonville to feed referrals for specialty care to that hub.

The Satilla deal “may tell us the direction that big health systems are going,’’ said Savage, who has worked extensively in Georgia.

Satilla will get access to Mayo’s capital and its internationally known brand, which, along with Johns Hopkins, carries a cachet unlike any other health system in the U.S., said Savage, a consultant with Health Planning Source.

The boards of Mayo Clinic and Satilla, as well as Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, have approved the merger of the two organizations, officials said. With the closing of the deal, Mayo Clinic becomes the parent organization of Satilla.

Satilla’s 1,450 staffers will remain in their current jobs after the affiliation, officials said.

Calamia, a rheumatologist who has worked at the Jacksonville hub, said Mayo will bring its medical knowledge and expertise to enhance medical services in the Waycross community, as it has elsewhere. Mayo delivers consistent quality care across all its facilities, he said.

Calamia and Trimm said that early on in the negotiations, the two nonprofit organizations recognized that they shared the same mission –- that the “needs of the patient come first.’’

Both organizations say they are committed to having patients receive the great majority of their health care services in Waycross.