/ Modified jun 15, 2015 12:33 p.m.

Rural Hospitals Connecting With TMC Specialists

New alliance helps smaller towns access expertise, improve care

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Tucson Medical Center has formed a partnership with four rural hospitals to deliver more specialty care to non-urban residents.

The hospitals in Benson, Bisbee, Willcox and Safford announced the alliance with TMC Monday. Each hospital retains its independence with the partnership, but shares expertise among the participants.

“For the people we serve, it means they don’t have to get in the car and drive to Tucson to see specialists,” said Richard Polheber, the CEO of Benson Hospital, and chairman of the Southern Arizona Hospital Alliance.

None of the hospitals is contributing money to the partnership, but they expect to save on some operating costs by negotiating as a group for contracts for supplies and pharmaceuticals, Polheber said.

The group is also going to explore whether it can create a region-wide employee insurance program, which Polheber said would lower the cost compared to each hospital insuring its employees separately from the alliance.

“Let’s try journeying together allowing us to have independence but exploring ways to do better over time," he said. “It’s a challenge to invite specialty doctors to come to rural areas, in particularly true for Benson that has a smaller community base compared to some of the other rural hospitals."

The arrangement may help recruit doctors to smaller, rural areas, a challenge in Arizona, he said.

“If you come here as a primary care physician, you’re going to be part of an important network, and we hope that will be an attraction for doctors."

TMC recently announced another partnership with the Mayo Clinic, wherein TMC doctors could call on Mayo specialists for help with unique or complicated cases. That partnership extends to the rural hospitals in the Southern Arizona Hospital Alliance with TMC, Polheber said.

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