On June 1, 2022, Bellin Health and Gundersen Health System announced they were deep into discussions of a planned merger of equals that would preserve and strengthen the personal, local medical care and experience for which they are renowned in their respective communities. As two of the Upper Midwest’s most respected health systems, Bellin and Gundersen have served patients in their respective parts of Wisconsin, Upper Michigan, Southeast Minnesota and Northeast Iowa for well over 100 years. Coming together will help them ensure the continued strength of robust local healthcare that helps patients and communities flourish. Read the systems’ June 1 public announcement about their intent to come together.
Bellin and Gundersen are leveraging the power of their well-respected health systems, providers and care teams for the benefit of the patients and communities they serve. Here is an at-a-glance look at the facilities, people and commitment to community that are joining forces as the two systems come together.
In Their Own Words: Bellin, Gundersen Leaders Share Perspectives
"Our health systems have been successfully fulfilling our individual missions, but we know that we will thrive and best serve our patients and communities by finding partners with shared missions and strategic visions. This merger brings transformative opportunities to expand our patient-centered care and community-minded work. Together, we can invest resources wisely and efficiently to improve health and well-being in our communities, especially for marginalized individuals and broadly for everyone in our care.”
— Scott Rathgaber, MD, Chief Executive Officer
"Coming together will allow Bellin Health and Gundersen Health System to better serve our patients and communities, preserving and enhancing a legacy of local, personalized care that will endure for decades to come. We have found a true partner in Gundersen, and we know we will be stronger together.”
— Chris Woleske, Executive Vice President & Bellin Region President
"Gundersen and Bellin provide exceptional care and experience, thanks to incredibly dedicated, passionate and talented clinicians and staff. Combining our outstanding care and incredible people will transform the healthcare experience. The commitment and compassion for patients and the communities we serve is palpable in our system. Coming together will help us expand options to serve the unique needs of all our patients and community members toward a life of better health and well-being.”
— Heather Schimmers, Gundersen Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Officer
Committed to Community: Signature Health System Events to Continue
Bellin Health and Gundersen Health System remain committed to community, and that includes the renowned and respected annual events for which both health systems are widely known and regarded. While far from an exhaustive list, this snapshot provides a look at some of the key community events and initiatives we look forward to continuing as we begin our next chapter together:
- Bellin Run
- Bellin Women’s Half Marathon & 5K
- Bellin Health partnership with the Green Bay Packers
- Steppin’ Out in Pink
- Children's Miracle Network (CMN) Radiothon
Medical Foundations Assure Donations Will Remain Local
As Gundersen Health System and Bellin Health move forward finalizing a merger of equals, some might be wondering about the impact on both health systems’ medical foundations operations and fundraising efforts. The people and communities Bellin and Gundersen serve can be assured medical foundation operations and fundraising efforts will remain separate. Donations made in the past or future to Gundersen Medical Foundation will be linked to work within communities in Gundersen’s service area. Likewise, donations made to The Bellin Health Foundation will remain within communities in Bellin's service area for investment in local projects. In addition, both foundations will remain locally governed.
What does this mean for patients?
Good news! The same doctors our patients know and trust will still be at the same locations they are today, along with the high level of personalized, local care patients expect and deserve. We are maintaining our respective names and brands for the time being, and our steadfast commitment to our patients and the communities we serve will never change. We remain committed to equity, inclusion and respect for all; working to ensure all who engage with us feel welcomed, valued and heard.
What does this mean for our communities?
We both want to see our communities flourish, and we can do more together! Through this merger we will continue and enhance our shared mission to bring health equity, access to preventive health services, and behavioral health and mental well-being support services to the communities we serve. Working together, we will continue to lead advancements in Population Health - an approach that cares for all people’s physical health, mental and financial well-being, home life and more. As not-for-profits, Bellin Health and Gundersen reinvest money made back into their communities totaling more than $210 million annually. This support goes directly to organizations and events committed to enhancing community health and well-being, advancing health equity and supporting local economic growth. And your favorite events aren’t going anywhere! We will continue to sponsor and provide the community with events and programming such as the Bellin Run and Women’s Half Marathon at Bellin Health and the breast cancer research walk and fundraiser Steppin’ Out in Pink, sponsored by Gundersen Medical Foundation.
Will there potentially be cost savings for patients?
Both organizations are not-for-profits with missions and existing processes in place to reduce the cost of care for our patients and communities. We can and will work together to pursue future growth opportunities, participate in lower-cost, value-based care contracts and share resources. This partnership also will bring new opportunities to expand important community-minded work. As not-for-profits, we reinvest what we earn back into our communities and patient care. This helps us lower or maintain health plan premiums, which reduces costs for the patients, employers and businesses we serve. And we can use those dollars to improve health outcomes for all in our care.
Are your names changing?
We are currently maintaining our respective names and brands. We will conduct a careful analysis before making any potential changes.
Who will lead the new organization?
Gundersen CEO Scott Rathgaber, MD, will serve as System CEO. Bellin Health President & CEO Chris Woleske will serve as System Executive Vice President and Regional President of the Bellin Region, while Gunderson Chief Operating Officer & Chief Nursing Officer Heather Schimmers will serve as Regional President of the Gundersen Region. The Chair of the newly formed Board will be John Dykema, currently Chair of the Bellin Health Board of Directors, residing in Northeast Wisconsin.
Will the greater Green Bay and La Crosse areas be negatively impacted by the loss of a corporate headquarters?
No, the Corporate Headquarters will remain in both La Crosse and Green Bay. This is a merger of equals, with a balanced leadership structure that places each of the two top positions — CEO and board chair — in different regions to ensure shared decision-making and equal representation.
Are there similarities between the two organizations?
Yes, and it all starts with putting people first! The people and communities we serve are at the core of our care and service, and our systems’ missions, visions and values complement each other in so many ways. We each have our own unique clinical and operational strengths, but fundamental to both is quality, experience and affordability in care.
Are both organizations not-for-profit? Do both organizations focus on Population Health?
Yes. As not-for-profit health systems, we both champion work in health equity and access to critical preventative health and mental well-being support services that are sorely needed in the communities we serve. Together, we will continue to lead advancements in Population Health - an approach that cares for everyone’s physical health, mental and financial well-being, home life, and more. We are committed to seeing our patients and communities thrive!
Are there any changes for our Health Plan partners or members?
Gundersen is maintaining its ownership in and will continue its relationship with Quartz. Quartz Health Plan members will not see any changes to their plan or coverage. Bellin Health is maintaining its relationship with HealthPartners and Robin. Robin Health Plan members likely will not see any changes to their plan or coverage. Moving forward as one company, we will continue to evaluate our health plan strategy to be able to deliver the best care at the lowest cost as part of our health insurance offerings.
What does this mean for the employment picture at both health systems?
Gundersen and Bellin Health are both regarded as top employers, but have not been immune to some of the recent challenges caused by a tight and dynamic labor market. Together, we can recruit and retain more top-tier healthcare providers and employees to help us care for the people and communities we serve. Combining the strength of Gundersen’s medical education with the nursing and medical imaging training of Bellin Health (via Bellin College), we intend to produce more nurses, radiologists and technicians who will provide a pipeline of clinicians for the areas we serve. We will address physician needs and nursing shortages together.
Bellin Health and Gundersen Health System are coming together for a merger of equals, with a planned transaction closing date of November 30. The first day of our new organization will be December 1, 2022.
We would like you to know there will be no changes to our current contract and relationship on December 1. Our team here at Bellin will continue to be your contacts moving forward. We will continue to keep you updated as we come together with Gundersen Health System. If you have questions or need more information, please contact our Supply Chain Director Patrick Rowan or your existing team liaison. We appreciate you and our relationship to support Bellin’s patients, staff, and community.