With a new name and a new brand, the year-old alliance between Palmetto Health and Greenville Health System may turn its attention outside of South Carolina.
The company will be called Prisma, co-CEO Chuck Beaman said last week. It's a play on "prism," which was already taken. When the hospitals joined last year, they named the organization simply SC Health Co. And taking the reference to the state out of the company's title might be purposeful.
"While South Carolina is certainly our focus, we are not excluding ourselves to South Carolina," Beaman said.
He said the medical provider has no immediate plans to acquire hospital facilities, in its home state or elsewhere. Of note, Prisma is branded as a health, and not a hospital, system. Beaman said Prisma is more than its combined 14 hospitals, and provides more than just acute care.
Administrators noted GHS' and Palmetto Health's long histories in the state. The Greenville system opened its doors in 1912. The Palmetto Health Baptist hospital first opened in downtown Columbia in 1914. The names of the hospitals each system owns will remain the same, but "Palmetto Health" and "Greenville Health System" will be phased out in early 2019.
That wasn't always the plan, according to a statement from the new group. At first, they planned to keep their respective brands. Only over time did they realize a "unified brand" was needed, according to the statement.
The partnership marks a new chapter for the systems, but across the hospital industry, consolidations are happening everywhere.
The two companies have been loathe to use the term "merger."
Tammie Epps, spokeswoman for Prisma, said that is because the two systems "came together as equal partners" to create the Prisma Health parent organization. The co-CEOs, Beaman in Columbia and Michael Riordan in Greenville, run the pair affiliates, she said.
Epps said the partnership is not a merger because one entity is not absorbing another.
Beaman said part of the reason for the new name was because administrators thought it was important employees know who they work for.
"We realized that in order for us to accomplish our purpose that it as important for us to be united," he said. "Our team members could wake up each morning knowing they work for the same company and the same name."
They have been adamant that patients shouldn't notice major changes.
Asked how Prisma will reduce prices for patients, Beaman said he will focus on driving down the system's costs. A larger organization has bigger bargaining chips.
Matthew Lewis, an associate professor at Clemson University who has studied mergers' effects on pricing, said generally, mergers increase prices for patients.
Larger hospital systems hold more sway over insurance companies. There is always the looming, usually unspoken threat of pulling out of an insurance network when contracts are being renegotiated, Lewis explained. That can help the hospitals convince the insurer to approve higher prices.
"They become even more important to the insurance companies in terms of guaranteeing access for their enrollees," Lewis said.
Still, there is some evidence that some partnerships can reduce costs to patients. And Lewis said an alliance like the one between Palmetto Health and GHS could make the system more efficient overall. It might be easier to deliver telehealth, Lewis pointed out, a prospect South Carolina has leaned into.
There have been no employment changes up to this point, leadership said. They may soon look to grow the medical staff. Together, the two systems employ more than 1,600 physicians and affiliates with more than 2,100.
But Prisma Health still lacks a single electronic health record. Palmetto Health and Greenville Health System each have different ones, Epps said.
"In the future, information should be available to any provider across Prisma Health," she said.