Moab Regional Hospital and Moab Family Medicine employees gathered together on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Moab Family Medicine and the hospital's Multi-Specialty Clinic will now operate jointly as the Moab Regional Health Center. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

In a move that administrators hope will create greater health-care stability for local residents, Moab Regional Hospital acquired Moab Family Medicine on Jan. 1. Although Moab Family Medicine already operated inside the hospital building, adjacent to the hospital’s Multi-Specialty Clinic, it was a separate, privately owned practice until this purchase. The hospital did not disclose the price to acquire the clinic.

Moab Family Medicine and the Multi-Specialty Clinic will now operate jointly as the Moab Regional Health Center. All of Moab Family Medicine’s employees – physicians Ken Williams, Katherine Williams, Jonas Munger and Dylan Cole; physician assistants Eve Maher-Young, Keely Hanson and Desiree Westfall; and reception staff – have become employees of the hospital.

“This integration may come to the surprise of some residents in the community,” said Sarah Shea, the hospital’s director of community relations, acknowledging that “some people felt like Moab Family Medicine was part of the hospital before this integration even happened.”

Much will remain the same:

“The patients shouldn’t really notice a difference,” Shea said. “The staff is remaining consistent.” Apart from cosmetic changes, like new name badges, the most noticeable difference from a patient’s perspective should be billing, Shea said.

“Now, instead of getting a bill for your medical care from Moab Family Medicine, you’ll be getting a bill from Moab Regional Hospital,” she said.

Ronnie Boongaling, the hospital’s director of physician services, echoed the hope that the transition would be smooth for patients.

“We wanted to make sure that there is very minimal disruption in patient care, if any,” Boongaling said.

He noted that staff at both the hospital and Moab Family Medicine had approximately a month to plan and prepare for the merger.

“My message to every employee in the hospital was, yeah, Moab Family Medicine is joining us, but also we’re joining Moab Family Medicine,” Boongaling said. “My initial observation is that when we put all the physicians together – the Multi-Specialty physicians and also Moab Family Medicine physicians – it’s nice to hear that we have common problems … and we have more voices that can contribute to the solution.”

Moab resident Ross High, waiting at Moab Family Medicine on a recent morning, said he hadn’t realized that the clinic’s ownership had changed. The only difference he had noticed since the integration was in the patient sign-in process.

“Pretty much the same,” High said.

Asked if the change of ownership was any concern to him, High replied, “Not really. The service is the same.”

Pat Nielsen, who was visiting Moab Family Medicine for the first time in two months, was also unconcerned by the integration.

“Just the signing of the paper is different,” Nielsen said. The new ownership, she said, didn’t matter to her.

Though visible changes may be minor – the hospital’s signage and website will be updated in the coming weeks to reflect the integration – Boongaling and Shea explained that there will be significant behind-the-scenes advantages as a result of the merger.

“When you’re running a private practice,” Boongaling said, “the physicians and the providers also have to worry about the business of medicine. With the hospital’s assistance, we can help out with that.”

Supported by the hospital’s business department, the incoming physicians won’t need to focus on managing billing or financial aid.

“Being able to run a private practice in this day and age is really, really difficult,” Shea said, citing the challenges of purchasing supplies, maintaining a computer system, and keeping up with evolving government and insurance regulations. In these areas, too, hospital staff can provide increased support.

Meanwhile, Moab Family Medicine’s four physicians will contribute a wealth of experience and practical knowledge to the hospital’s team.

“We added at least 50 years’ experience with Moab Family Medicine,” Boongaling said.

Shea believes the merger will ultimately help draw more medical professionals to Moab in the future.

“We have an ability to help attract and retain more medical providers to the community in years to come,” Shea said, “because the nonprofit status of the hospital allows physicians and medical providers the opportunity to gain access to loan repayment programs and different systems to help ease the amount of debt that a physician comes out from medical school having to repay.”

(The average debt for a medical school graduate in 2014, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, was approximately $180,000.)

“In a small community like this, a small, rural community, there’s no question that attracting providers … is difficult,” Shea said. “I think this integration was the best option for being able to continue providing high-quality health care in our community.”

Patient records at the former private practice have not been transferred to the hospital.

“At this point, we’re keeping them where they are,” Boongaling said. “If we start messing around with the actual patient record, then that’s a huge change,” he added, emphasizing the hospital’s goal of “managing the change” in a deliberate and undisruptive way.

Moab Regional Hospital CEO Jennifer Sadoff said that the hospital’s nonprofit status can help with providing charity care for patients who are unable to pay.

“When we provide charity care, because we’re a not-for-profit hospital, it allows us to get some reimbursement from the government,” Sadoff said.

Although that reimbursement typically covers only a quarter of the cost, she said, a for-profit private practice would receive no reimbursement at all.

“Moab Family Medicine has always been … very generous in giving care when patients couldn’t always pay for it,” Sadoff said. “MRH’s not-for-profit status will allow us to sustainably continue Moab Family Medicine’s tradition of providing charity care in our primary care clinics; we do over $4 million a year in charity care that we provide to the community right now, and I expect that those numbers will increase.”

Officials hope change will better support local physicians

My message to every employee in the hospital was, yeah, Moab Family Medicine is joining us, but also we’re joining Moab Family Medicine.

Patients can schedule appointments with their providers by calling 435-719-5500.