The University of Toledo and St. Luke's Hospital in Maumee are developing a partnership to better serve students at the university and patients in the greater Toledo area.
Collaboration could improve recruitment and retention of health professionals, save money through shared services, and partner medical staffs to integrate care.
It is not a merger between the public and private institutions, officials said.
"Merger is too strong a word. We're talking about building a relationship," said Dr. Jeffrey Gold, dean of UT's college of medicine and executive vice president and provost for health affairs.
A memorandum of understanding between the university and OhioCare Health System, the parent corporation for St. Luke's, sets the stage for formal discussions "regarding the development of a strategic relationship."
The language of that five-page document has been left vague intentionally, officials said, to not limit discussions about how they can work together.
Discussions have been taking place for about six months, and the memorandum of understanding sets up more in-depth talks that will include sharing detailed information such as real estate and finances with a competitor. The document was set up to keep private details and trade secrets confidential as the institutions negotiate. .
"In a contracting economy, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense that we're using not-for-profit resources to compete with each other," said Dan Wakeman, president and chief executive of St. Luke's.
UT has a family practice residency program with St. Luke's, and an emergency-room residency program will start in July.
The institutions also collaborate in specialty areas, such as cardiology.
For UT, an increased partnership will help the university train its students locally at a well-respected community hospital, Dr. Gold said.
UT always is looking to provide students with clinical and residency opportunities.
Most recently, the university completed an agreement with Saint Joseph Mercy Health System in Michigan and has relationships locally with ProMedica Health System and Mercy Health Partners.
Dr. Gold said working with St. Luke's could help alleviate space limitations at the UT Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio Hospital, which is not large enough to help the university meet its goal of being one of the top 100 medical centers in the country.
UT could build an expansion, which might not be best in the current economy, or work with other local institutions to find more beds, Dr. Gold said.
For St. Luke's, working closely with a teaching institution can help with the recruitment and retention of well-trained medical professionals, Mr. Wakeman said.
"Frankly we can build all the hospitals and fancy buildings we want, but if we don't have high-quality people in there to take care of patients, that's not going to do anything," Mr. Wakeman said.
Teaching hospitals also keep everyone on their toes to provide the best care possible, Mr. Wakeman said.
"The best way for us to learn is to teach," he said. "Residents - they study, read, and ask pertinent questions and make you think about why you do what you do."
Officials at both institutions said UT and St. Luke's will keep their separate identities no matter the result of partnership negotiations.
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