Oklahoma has its first integrated academic health system with OU faculty practice, hospitals merger

By merging to become OU Health, the system said it will be able to ramp up medical research, train more clinicians and improve the patient experience. The hospitals had been spun out in 1998 and owned by HCA Healthcare until 2018. (OU Health)

After decades apart, the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine faculty practice has merged with OU Medicine’s parent company University Hospitals Authority and Trust (UHAT) to form the state’s first integrated academic health system.

With the conclusion of a formal signing ceremony held Tuesday, the unified entity known as OU Health said it now looks to amplify medical research, increase its ability to educate new healthcare professionals and improve the quality of care for patients.

“The healthiest states have one thing in common: an academic health system that brings together patient care, research and the training of tomorrow’s health care leaders,” Joseph Harroz Jr., president of the University of Oklahoma, said in a statement. “Before today, we had each of those pieces, and while they worked together, they operated separately with different management structures. Now, this merger unlocks unlimited potential as we bring together research-driven care and education that will make Oklahomans healthier, lead to economic prosperity and move our state forward.”

The faculty practice, OU Health Physicians, was the largest physician group in the state of Oklahoma prior to the merger.  

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OU Medicine and its hospitals had been owned by HCA Healthcare and jointly managed with UHAT from 1998 to 2018. UHAT and the University of Oklahoma formed OU Medicine as a nonprofit in 2017 and with it reacquired the hospitals for $750 million.

The official plans to merge the hospitals and the practice were announced by the groups in March.

G. Rainey Williams Jr., board chair of UHAT, said at the time that the hospitals began working to deepen their relationship with the university shortly after the big-ticket purchase.

“OU and UHAT share a common commitment for the new OU Health to be a top-tier academic health care system marked by high-quality patient care, world-class training and innovative research,” he said in a statement. “Merging the hospitals and clinics into a unified health system allows us to accelerate the achievement of these missions.”

With the merger, OU Health Physicians will be creating a new clinic practice within OU Health and forming a single governing board comprised of OU officers, UHAT board members and other community leaders, the group said.

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On its website, the academic health system also outlined some of the operational benefits it will enjoy thanks to the merger and reorganization.

It said that a singular clinical strategy will allow the system to “more strategically” invest in research and education efforts that benefit the entity as a whole, while patients will benefit from more interdisciplinary care and new community healthcare strategies.

OU Health also highlighted an organizationwide electronic health record overhaul slated for 2022 as well as a new sales tax exemption that will fund an additional 70 medical resident positions, 110 nursing graduates per year and 50 nurse practitioners per year.

More broadly, the system said it hopes the formation of an academic medical system will help address Oklahoma’s clinical workforce shortage. According to OU Health, the state ranks 46th in physicians per capita and has 40% fewer registered nurses per capita than the national average.

“Oklahomans will benefit from the latest in research-driven advancements and increased access to health care, and the next generation of OU-trained physicians will carry our tradition of excellence into the future,” John Zubialde, M.D., executive dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, said in a statement.