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Carle Health takes over former Peoria-area UnityPoint operations

Joe Deacon
Carle Health president and CEO Dr. James Leonard, right, speaks as Carle Health Greater Peoria president Dr. Keith Knepp listens during a dedication ceremony Monday at the Methodist Atrium in Peoria.

Three Greater Peoria hospitals and their affiliated services are now officially part of the Carle Health network.

A dedication ceremony Monday morning in the Methodist Atrium marked the integration of the former UnityPoint Health – Central Illinois operations into the Urbana-based Carle system, following the formal closing on April 1.

“As we move ahead with like-minded partners, I couldn't be more excited about what's in front of us,” said Dr. James Leonard, president and CEO of Carle Health. “The ability to expand the health care specialization and reach out in new and improved ways to the community, and in exciting ways as new technologies come forward.”

The integration moves Methodist, Proctor and Pekin hospitals under the Carle umbrella, along with 76 clinics and other home health and behavioral health services, and Methodist College.

“On the one hand, our hope is that you don't notice a lot of change. We're proud of the care that we delivered today, we're looking forward to continuing to deliver great care in the future,” said Dr. Keith Knepp, who transitions to president of Carle Health Greater Peoria after serving in a similar capacity with UnityPoint. “So it's kind of a win, if people say, ‘Hey the sign’s changed, but the great care continues.

“On the other hand as we look a little bit further out, we hope that you see investments in this community, whether that's investments and health of the population and community health issues, and behavioral health. Or even facility investments and capital and growth of depth and breadth of services. If we can look back in a few years and point to some of those things, then we'll know we've not only sustained what we had going but we've done something even better together.”

The Carle Health system now consists of eight hospitals — following the 2020 acquisitions of Normal’s BroMenn Medical Center and Eureka Hospital — with about 1,300 doctors and close to 17,000 total employees.

Leonard said the process of Carle acquiring UnityPoint began more than two years ago, with the geographical proximity to its other areas playing a key role. He said UnityPoint’s strong level of service to the Peoria area made it worthwhile.

“There was nothing broken, otherwise we likely wouldn't be sitting here today,” said Leonard. “The quality is high — measurable quality outcomes, we're well aware of that. So it becomes: what does this together allow us to do that maybe we couldn't have done three years from now if we hadn't done this? That's really where my focus is at

“I think with the ability to expand the medical staff, the specialization, to focus on the community aspects of care — which includes behavioral health as well as some of the social determinants of care that are really necessary to drive wellness in a community — all of that begins to rise.”

Dr. Napoleon Knight, Carle’s chief medical officer, said adding the Peoria network of health professionals to their system presents an opportunity for shared knowledge and better solutions.

“We don't have all the answers, and sometimes when you come together with another system, there's an incredible number of bright, engaged people in health care and sometimes if you're part of a larger system, you find these ‘a-ha’ moments,” said Knight. “So we can get better a lot faster than we ever were able to do in the past.

“So I think that that's something that I'm really looking forward to: finding a bunch of smart people over here in Peoria and saying, ‘You guys are doing better than we're doing on that metric. What did you do, how’d you do it?’ That to me is really part of the exciting things that come along with an opportunity like this.”

Knepp said existing patients should not see any disruption of services or insurance coverage with the move to Carle, including those treated through the UnityPlace behavioral health and addiction services network that also gets a new name: Trillium Place.

“The organization itself, and the services it provides will be the same tomorrow as they are today,” said Knepp. “That said, we do hope things change. We hope to be able to expand services through Trillium Place, and the big project that's underway is the Young Minds Institute project that's underway at the old Heddington Oaks facility.”

Knepp added that current employees’ jobs and salaries will remain intact following the transition. Leonard emphasized that workers’ job security was one of the preliminary discussion points with the UnityPoint board ahead of the agreement.

“We're absolutely committed to the employees. We need workers in health care; we have a deficit, not an excess,” said Leonard. “There may be other opportunities within the system for people to get promotions or to do other things. But this is not about efficiencies taking people out of jobs.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.