FRENCH CAMP — San Joaquin General Hospital may not be going it alone for much longer.

At their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 9, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted to authorize county staff to enter into a non-binding letter of intent to evaluate various options and negotiate the terms for structuring a potential partnership between San Joaquin General and CommonSpirit/Dignity Health.

The move comes after the county conducted a routine review of the position of its health system and evaluating public health trends. The review, which is held about once every 10 years, also explores whether it is in the best interests of the county to weigh partnerships with external health systems to improve the future viability of San Joaquin General.

In the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the county has decided that such a partnership may be warranted moving forward.

“(For) the benefit of our community we must consider a partnership with a strong regional health system,” Supervisor Tom Patti, chairman of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, said in a press release. “A partnership with such a system would help San Joaquin General Hospital better meet its goals of quality health care, to conduct its operations more efficiently, expand services for its residents and provide competitive pay to attract and retain high-quality health care workers. This kind of arrangement will help ensure San Joaquin County residents can access essential services well into the future.”

Established in 1857, San Joaquin General Hospital and its related clinics form the basis for the county’s safety-net health care system, with 65% of patients utilizing Medicare or Medi-Cal. The hospital also serves as a level-III trauma center and graduate medical education program.

The county first began evaluating the possibility of a partnership in February 2020, forming an ad hoc committee to explore the idea and issuing a request for information to regional health care systems. Several systems responded to the request, including CommonSpirit/Dignity, which operates St. Joseph’s Medical Center, and Adventist Health, which operates Lodi Memorial.

Following more than 60 hours of meetings with those two systems and others, the committee recommended that the county pursue a formal partnership agreement with Dignity.

According to the committee, the mission, services and outreach undertaken by Dignity aligns well with the county and San Joaquin General’s own health care mission. The committee cited Dignity’s experience with Medi-Cal and Medicare as well as commercial insurers, San Joaquin General’s close relationship with St. Joseph’s throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Dignity’s strong financial health, and other benefits a potential partnership would bring.

Additionally, both San Joaquin General and St. Joseph’s are working to significantly expand their graduate medical education programs. County officials hope that strong graduate medical education offerings will encourage graduates to remain in the county as they embark on their careers.

The board on Feb. 9 voted to accept the recommendation to begin non-binding negotiations with Dignity, but also voted to consult with Adventist Health prior to moving to finalize the agreement.

Further action will require final approval of the Board of Supervisors, along with other regulatory and legal requirements.

Alston & Bird will assist in developing the letter of intent at discounted hourly rates to a maximum of $250,000, plus additional out-of-pocket expenses not to exceed $25,000, for the period from Feb. 1 to June 30.

Alvarez and Marsal will provide additional assistance, also at discounted hourly rates, not to exceed $125,000 plus $12,500 for out-of-pocket expenses.

San Joaquin General Hospital’s daily operations will not be affected as the partnership is considered.

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