Conway Regional Medical Center will be seeking a partnership with another hospital or health system to provide financial stability, expertise and more patient services in a changing healthcare marketplace.

Independent community hospitals like Conway Regional seeking partnerships with larger systems is a nationwide trend and a reaction to changes expected with 2010’s federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

"As you look to the future, the way we’re going to be paid is different than how we’re paid now," Conway Regional board chairman Dr. Bart Throneberry said.

One difference will be billing for an "episode of care," or treatment of an illness as a whole, rather than for each procedure. Another will be reduced payments to some Medicare plans and hospitals. Such measures are intended to curb the increasing costs of healthcare.

"As we navigate that, taking on that risk, we may need people to evaluate that and help us with that," Conway Regional CEO Jim Lambert said, adding that different healthcare providers are experimenting with different payment systems to accommodate the changes.

Lambert said that some organizations "both regionally and nationally" have shown some interest in a working relationship with Conway Regional, but he wasn’t ready to say what these were or what the relationship would be.

Generally, hospitals in Conway Regional’s position seek a mutual partnership, merger or sale. Conway Regional Spokesperson Lori Ross said that selling Conway Regional to an outside concern was not an option being considered.

Lambert said that Conway Regional is "in a strong financial position, which is when you want to seek a partnership" and has a lot to bring to the table for one that would allow the hospital to retain "as much local control as we can."

"We have a lot to offer to a potential partner," he said. "We’ve got a great presence in the market with great cardiovascular and orthopedic capabilities and we have a lot to offer to anybody who’s looking at this market and could be a great partner as this goes forward."

Lambert, who has been on the Conway Regional medical staff for 26 years and has seen the hospital "grow from community primary care hospital into a regional medical center because we’ve had a real vision of where we wanted this to go and strong leadership and good, hard-working employees," said that these attributes would continue to take Conway Regional through this next chapter.

Conway Regional’s announcement comes about two weeks after Baptist Health Systems declared its intentions to expand into Faulkner County. Baptist Health has ties to a piece of land off United Drive just south of Caldwell Toyota, though its exact intentions haven’t been officially announced.

Conway Regional officials said on Thursday that the decision to start looking into some sort partnership was made months ago.

"The challenges in healthcare are enough in and of themselves right now without a competitive threat," Lambert said.

(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at joe.lamb@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)