Helix CEO Quits, Paving Way for Hopkins Merger

Article excerpt

Helix Health, Maryland's largest hospital network, announced the resignation of its chief executive yesterday in a move that some observers said increases the chances of a Helix merger with Johns Hopkins Health Systems.

Helix CEO James Oakey quit for personal reasons Monday night, the company said in a press release.

But the fact that he was replaced immediately by Helix board Vice Chairman Michael Merson suggests that Helix and Hopkins soon will consummate their courtship, industry observers said.

"I would assume he stepped aside so the process could move forward," said health care consultant Susan Hansen.

Whatever happens with merger talks between Baltimore-based Helix and Hopkins will affect D.C.-area hospitals, which are reaching deep into the suburbs for patients as the market continues a rapid consolidation.

A Helix-Hopkins merger would create a local health care giant that controls more than 25 percent of licensed hospital beds in Maryland.

Before deciding to go it alone last month, Columbia Hospital had been courted by Medlantic Healthcare Group of Washington and Suburban Hospital of Bethesda, both of which struck deals recently with the Baltimore hospital groups.

Medlantic and Helix last year created BWHealth, the region's largest hospital network, and Suburban and Hopkins are planning an outpatient clinic in Bethesda, which they plan as the first in a string of satellite medical centers.

A Helix-Hopkins deal would be complicated by the need for the university hospital to maintain its role as a teaching facility for future doctors. That might mean a smaller role for Helix executives, with or without Mr. Oakey.

A Helix spokesman stressed that Mr. Oakey made his own decision to resign and that no change in direction is signaled by his replacement, Mr. Merson, a former company chief executive who helped establish the system in 1987.

"This isn't going to change our mission, vision or our stance regarding any of the discussions we are having with potential partners," said Gerry Blair, assistant vice president for marketing and communications at Helix.

Hopkins officials reacted by saying that a merger between the two hospital systems would ensure that students studying at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine would continue to receive accredited training at Helix facilities.

Mr. Oakey "had the vision to understand that funding Johns Hopkins School of Medicine professorships and research programs based at his hospital, Good Samaritan, would benefit us all, as well as the communities we serve," Hopkins Health System Chief Executive Ronald Peterson said in a joint statement with Dr. …