An expanded contract between Heritage Provider Network Inc. and West Hills Hospital & Medical Center is bringing more local patients to the healthcare campus.

The new contract, which went into effect last month, includes a greater number of Heritage physicians who are referring their patients from the West Hills area to West Hills Hospital for in-patient care, said Beverly Gilmore, the hospital’s CEO.

Gilmore said there was a need for an expanded contract because the former contract with the hospital only included referrals from physicians connected with Northridge-based Regal Medical Group, which is owned by Heritage and not for those who were part of Glendale-based Lakeside Medical Group. That group was formally called Lakeside Healthcare Inc. and was acquired by Heritage in November 2009. Gilmore said the new contract also brings referrals from physicians of Community Medical Group, which merged with Lakeside Healthcare Inc. in 2007.

“The original contract that we had applied to a much smaller group of patients,” Gilmore said. “(Now) they have a lot more patients in this area. … The bottom line is we’re both very pleased to have this contract so people who live in this area will be able to use West Hills (Hospital) as a choice.”

Gilmore said there have already been more patients at the hospital due to the contract, though she could not quantify current and future levels of increase. The busier patient traffic is expected to affect the hospital’s departments across the board with referrals being made by physicians in both general and specialty medicine. Staff levels will increase according to need, she said.

“We will add staff as the volume grows,” she said, adding that the hospital also has the option to increase the hours of its part-time employees.

Heritage Provider Network

HEADQUARTERS: Northridge

FOUNDED: 1979

Local Medical Groups: Regal Medical Group, Lakeside Medical Group

Local Employees: 600

Counties In Which It Operates: Imperial, Los Angeles, Kern, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Tulare, Ventura

Reasons for expansion

Jonathan Gluck, senior executive for Heritage, said some recent changes to West Hills Hospital’s campus helped in their decision to participate in a larger contract.

“West Hills has recently added additional services at their hospital,” Gluck said, referring to the hospital’s new Grossman Burn Center, intensive care unit and emergency department. “We believe that the new agreement gives the local physicians and members that we have in the area improved access to the hospital, which is newly expanded. We look forward to a productive relationship moving forward in the future.”

West Hills Hospital’s new 18-bed intensive care unit and 33-bed emergency department opened in May, while the Grossman Burn Center moved from Sherman Oaks Hospital to West Hills in July.

Gluck said Heritage, which is based in Northridge, has contracted with West Hills Hospital for several years. He refused, however, to say how many more physicians would be connected with the contract or how many more patients might be referred to West Hills Hospital. He also would not comment about how Heritage Medical Group’s acquisition of Lakeside Medical Group contributed to the formation of a new contract with West Hills Hospital.

Heritage has about 600 employees including physicians in the San Fernando Valley, Gluck said.

Heritage and West Hills Hospital had been in talks for about 6 months to a year before the new contract was signed, Gilmore said.

Network growth

Heritage was started in 1979 when Dr. Richard N. Merkin, the director of emergency services at a community hospital in Southern California, was asked by a health plan to start and manage a physician group practice, according to the network’s Web site. Since then, the organization has added several affiliates.

Other affiliates besides Regal and Lakeside medical groups include Bakersfield Family Medical Center, Coastal Communities Physician Network, Desert Oasis Health Care, High Desert Medical Group, Heritage Victor Valley Medical Group, Sierra Medical Group and Affiliated Doctors of Orange County Inc.

Heritage is comprised of 2,100 primary care physicians, more than 30,000 specialists and numerous affiliated hospitals.