By LISA EISENHAUER
A big reason that Avera Health decided to sell its telemedicine platform, Avera eCare, was so the service could gain wider use, Avera President and Chief Executive Bob Sutton said.
On July 30 Avera announced that Aquiline Capital Partners would be purchasing its eCare division. The buyer is a private investment firm based in New York and London with $6.4 billion in assets under management. The companies expect to close the deal by the end of the year. They are not disclosing the purchase price.
"As a Catholic health care ministry, it's important for us to continue to talk about stewardship and for us to scale this beyond the current 32 states and over 600 sites is difficult," Sutton said. "But for the acquiring entity, they will look to take this to scale and provide this amazing technology to even more people, which means better patient outcomes for millions of more people in our country."
After the sale closes, the company will be renamed Avel eCare. Avera eCare's chief executive, Deanna Larson, will assume the same post in the new company.
The 230 people who work for Avera eCare will move to the new company, whose headquarters will remain in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Sutton said those employees include a small number of clinicians as well as people in sales, technology and other areas whose jobs support the platform.
Avera said there will be no disruption of services for patients. The service lines — behavioral health, correctional health, emergency, hospitalist and senior care — will continue under Avel eCare.
Sutton said that Avera will be a customer of Avel eCare with Avera clinicians using the platform to continue to provide telemedicine services.
He said the decision to divest from the eCare platform came at the suggestion of Avera's sponsoring congregations — the Benedictine Sisters of Yankton Sacred Heart Monastery and Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary — and after months of discernment.
"In the end it was based on, we have this great resource that has changed thousands of lives and led to better health outcomes and saved millions of dollars for patients and for our delivery system and (we asked ourselves) 'Are we being good stewards by keeping it as limited as it is?'" Sutton said.
He noted that Avera has been an innovator in virtual care since it ventured into telemedicine two decades ago. Like those of other health systems across the country, Avera's eCare services have been in wider demand since the start of the pandemic, he said.
Sutton said owning the delivery platform does not give Avera a decided advantage over telehealth competitors.
Sutton said Avera will use proceeds from the sale to develop other innovative treatment models and to expand the system's care. He said the system could partner with Aquiline in some of those future innovations.
He said the change in ownership of the eCare platform will not interrupt or diminish the system's commitment to providing care — including through telemedicine — to its largely rural service area, including through its American Indian Health Initiative.
"We have some opportunities for growth within and contiguous to our footprint here in the Upper Great Plains and we believe that delivering health care where people want to receive it, as close to home as possible, is incredibly important to our patients but also a big part of our strategic plan," he said.