Courage Center, Sister Kenny merger will bring changes

It’s the end of an era for two of the Twin Cities’ largest and most prominent disability service organizations and […]

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It’s the end of an era for two of the Twin Cities’ largest and most prominent disability service organizations and the beginning of something new. Courage Center and Allina Health’s Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute announced Dec. 14 that they will merge. The merger, which is to be completed in spring 2013, will allow the merged program to draw on the two organizations’ strengths. It will also provide more integrated care for people with disabilities who currently use both organizations.

Courage Center’s clinical programs will combine with those of Sister Kenny, and the two organizations will look for opportunities to integrate clinical care, community-based services, research, innovation, public policy and advocacy. The merger will produce a uniquely comprehensive continuum of care including inpatient, outpatient and community-based rehabilitation services designed to keep people healthy and independent. While many questions, including the name, leadership and how to best utilize both bricks and mortar locations of the new organization, have to be worked out, staff and board members of the organizations have expressed confidence in what lies ahead.

But it’s also seen as a part of a trend in a changing health care world, where service providers must find the best ways to provide care while balancing costs at a time when reimbursements have been cut and donations and other revenues are dropping.

“As an advocate on behalf of people with disabilities, we recognize that one of the challenges our clients face is a fragmented system of rehabilitation services that is hard for both clients and providers to navigate. By partnering to create a more seamless experience, we will make it easier for our clients to get the care they need, which is key to improving outcomes,” said Jan Malcolm, chief executive officer of Courage Center.

“We are thrilled about what the coordinated strengths of our organizations will mean to the community,” said Penny Wheeler, MD, chief clinical officer of Allina Health. “By combining the two, we blend the clinical care expertise of Sister Kenny with the exceptional programming, advocacy and community programs of Courage Center. In doing so, we can coordinate care, improve health and positively affect the lives of people with disabilities.”

The overarching objective of this partnership is to succeed in meeting the “triple aim” challenge of health reform: improving the experience of care, improving the health of people with a broad range of permanent or episodic disabilities, and reducing the per capita costs of health care for people with disabilities.

“The integration of these two leading programs offers individuals living with disabilities the benefits of a coordinated model of care that combines great clinical care with supportive social services and broader health and wellness programming,” said Wheeler.

Golden Valley-based Courage Center was founded in 1928 as an advocacy group for what then was known as the Society for Crippled Children. It is a non-profit rehabilitation and resource center that advances the lives of children and adults experiencing barriers to health and independence. It specializes in treating brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, chronic pain, autism and disabilities experienced since birth. Courage Center offers advanced technologies and innovation provided in part through the efforts of thousands of volunteers and donors.

What is now Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute was founded in 1942 by a British nurse, Sister Elizabeth Kenny. It specializes in treating people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke, cancer, sports-related injuries and neurological or muscular disorders. Sister Kenny Institute became part of Abbott Northwestern Hospital in 1975 and is now part of Allina Health. Sister Kenny offers medical rehabilitation services at nine hospitals.

Collaboration between Courage Center and Sister Kenny is nothing new. About 15 years ago the two started the managed care nonprofit Axis Healthcare. Leaders of the two organizations believe that the merged organization will draw on the strengths of each. Sister Kenny is well-known for its medical expertise. Courage Center has a longstanding reputation for strong community programs and outreach. In many cases the two institutions serve the same people, with Sister Kenny providing care and therapy right after an injury and Courage Center providing continued rehabilitation, training and a host of other services.

Each currently has its own foundation; those will be merged as well.

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