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Gundersen and Bellin start to put merger into effect

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Rick Solem

Gundersen Heath System and an eastern Wisconsin health care firm have now signed a merger agreement. The two health care entities are proceeding with joint services for their hospitals and clinics. 

The La Crosse hospital system announced the planned merger with Bellin of Green Bay in June. 

Gundersen CEO Dr. Scott Rathgaber said Tuesday the Bellin agreement followed an attempt to merge with Marshfield Clinic.

“A lot of it was just timing, right?” Rathgaber said during an online discussion of the hospital merger. “You have to be ready, and it has to be the right time, and we learned that there are certain parameters that are important to be aligned with, and we didn’t quite, just couldn’t quite get there.”

Both companies say the partnership allows them to expand their health care services to nearly a dozen hospitals and over 100 local clinics. The CEO of Bellin, Chris Woleske, said her company and Gundersen plan to be protective of the small town clinics they run, in the face of growing competition.

“They’re not going to be able to compete on their own, because it’s not just traditional health care that you’re competing with any more,” Woleske said. “It’s the large disruptors. It’s Amazon. It’s Walgreen’s. It’s, you know, Walmart. It’s all of the players out there that are getting into this business more and more.”

Rathgaber added that the merger with Bellin should help both companies provide quality care for decades to come. He says there isn’t a relocation of offices planned between the two companies, and he and Woleske jokingly dismissed the idea that there would be any combined name for the merged organization, such as “Gunder-Bellin.”

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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