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posted: 3/18/2010 12:01 AM

Northwest Community Hospital, Affinity Healthcare to merge

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Arlington Heights-based Northwest Community Hospital said Wednesday it has signed a letter of intent to merge with Riverwoods-based Affinity Healthcare LLC, and the group's 220 workers, including 41 doctors and clinicians, will become Northwest employees.

That's the first time doctors will be directly employed by Northwest, compared to being on staff, or affiliated, with the hospital. Northwest currently has about 1,100 doctors on staff.

The merger is expected to be completed later this year. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. And the boards of directors of both organizations still need to approve the deal, said Affinity CEO Michael Hartke, who also will become an employee of Northwest.

"This offers us a unique opportunity because of our commonality and our mission and vision," Hartke said.

Affinity also has two offices in Arlington Heights and another in Buffalo Grove. It was formed in 2007 by three medical groups: Greater Northwest Medical Group, North Suburban Internists and Adult Care Specialists, all practicing in the Northwest Suburbs. Affinity offers primary care services and includes internal medicine, gastroenterology, podiatry, chiropractic and acupuncture.

Northwest has been planning to open a new building on its Arlington Heights campus in May, as well as offices in Mount Prospect and Rolling Meadows later this summer.

The merger is expected to improve health care quality and patient safety, the agencies said.

Northwest is expected to "work through its strategic plan during the next few years" and "more hospital-physician integration is expected," the hospital said in a statement.

"The health care delivery system is fragmented, and there is tremendous value to hospitals working more collaboratively with physicians," Northwest CEO Bruce Crowther said in a statement.

Crowther was unavailable for further comment.

"It has been a growing trend among hospitals to employ physicians directly," said Danny Chun, a spokesman for the Naperville-based Illinois Hospital Association, about the health care industry. Chun declined to comment on the Northwest-Affinity deal because he was unfamiliar with its specifics.