Aria, Jefferson Health executives confirm merger

Aria CEO Kathleen Kinslow (pictured) and Dr. Stephen Klasko, president and CEO of Jefferson Health, signed a merger agreement. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

Dr. Stephen Klasko, president and CEO of Jefferson Health, uses the analogy of a marriage to describe the newly consummated union between his organization and Northeast-based Aria Health.

In that case, last week’s merger might equate to a second trip down the aisle for two of Philadelphia’s largest clinical care providers. In the 1990s, Aria — then known as Frankford Hospitals — teamed with Jefferson, Main Line Health, Einstein Health and Magee Rehab in a network known as Jefferson Health System. In 2009, Frankford rebranded itself and left the partnership, which eventually disbanded.

Speaking on July 6 after he and Aria CEO Kathleen Kinslow signed a merger agreement inside the atrium of Aria’s recently rebuilt emergency department, Klasko characterized the prior relationship as more of a cohabitation. But now, they’ve tied the knot on all levels.

“There’s living together and then there’s being married,” Klasko said. “The former issue (involving Jefferson and Aria) was more of a holding company over those entities. This is a real merger.”

Under the previous alignment, the partners continued to operate largely independently. They maintained their own directorial boards and administrative hierarchies. But under the terms of the new merger, there will be one board with equal representation among Aria, Jefferson and the former Abington Health, which similarly merged with Jefferson in May 2015. Likewise, Kinslow will add the duties of executive vice president and chief integration officer of Jefferson Health to her role as Aria chief executive.

Other participants in last week’s ceremony included Aria board chairman Robert Truitt, Thomas Jefferson University board chairman Richard Hevner and Jefferson Health Chief Operating Officer Laurence Merlis. Truitt introduced Sandra Gromberg as the new president of Aria. She most recently served as Aria’s COO.

The new Jefferson Health, including Abington, Aria and Thomas Jefferson University, will consist of 23,000 employees (clinical and academic), 5,000 physicians and practitioners, 5,770 nurses and 2,217 inpatient beds throughout the region. Aria brings 4,800 employees into the new organization. The new 30-member board will consist of nine members from Aria, nine from Abington and nine from Jefferson, plus Klasko and two independent members.

Founded in 1903 as Frankford Hospital, Aria opened its Torresdale campus in 1977 and acquired the former Delaware Valley Medical Center in Falls Township, Bucks County, in 1999. Since then, it has billed itself as the leading healthcare provider in the Northeast and Lower Bucks. Together, the three acute care hospitals offer 485 inpatient beds. Aria also operates at least two urgent care centers and two “fast care” centers for people seeking treatment for non-emergency illnesses and ailments.

Kinslow said that there have been no layoffs at Aria as a result of the merger preparations, which began formally last October. But she did not rule out the possibility of staffing consolidations moving forward, particularly administrative or other non-clinical roles.

“The consolidation is really not about displacing employees,” Kinslow said.

She and Klasko agreed that the merger will allow Aria patients continued access to high-quality care in their own communities while integrating that care with the resources of Jefferson and Abington. Klasko described it as a “hub and hub” model, rather than a “hub and spoke” model that often results when an academic medical center like Jefferson acquires a community hospital like Aria.

“This is not a consolidation. This is really a shared community governance model,” Klasko said.

In scouting Jefferson in advance of last year’s merger announcement, Aria officials visited Abington Hospital to gauge how that community institution responded to its earlier merger with Jefferson.

“Abington had one of the best years they’ve ever had,” Klasko said.

Jefferson has not sought to funnel patients away from Abington’s two acute-care facilities and toward Thomas Jefferson University, he added.

“Instead of building new beds downtown, we’re building infrastructure and technology” to serve patients in community settings, Klasko said. “It’s now Abington-Jefferson Health and people can stay in Abington.”

Kinslow said that Aria has already benefitted from the Jefferson relationship with the integration of Jefferson’s orthopedic program into the Level II trauma center at Aria’s Torresdale campus. Now, Aria emergency department staff don’t have to send orthopedic trauma patients to other ERs.

“We have already seen it demonstrated in our trauma program,” Kinslow said.

Moving forward, Aria patients will have access to two of the region’s leading orthopedic programs. Aria has been affiliated with 3B Orthopedics for years. The Rothman Institute is Jefferson’s orthopedics program.

Kinslow further said she does not envision closings in Aria’s urgent care network, which includes one site at 2451 Grant Ave. and another at 2966 Street Road in Bensalem.

Klasko credited Aria’s “financial turnaround” and improvement in quality of care in recent years as incentives for the merger from Jefferson’s perspective.

“What has happened at Aria is phenomenal,” he said. “They’ve become a leader in low-cost, high-quality care in a community environment.” ••

A perfect match: Aria board chairman Robert Truitt (left) receives an award from Thomas Jefferson University board chairman Richard Hevner during a ceremony on July 6. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO