Next year's merger of two hospitals in Anoka County will have one clear financial impact for patients: Some ambulance rides will be on the house.

On Monday, the Star Tribune reported the Minneapolis-based Allina Health System will merge under one license Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids with Unity Hospital in Fridley.

Starting next year, the smaller medical center in Fridley will be known as “Mercy Hospital — Unity Campus.”

Currently, if a person receiving inpatient care at Unity must be transferred for inpatient services at Mercy, the patient typically is charged a fee for the ambulance transport, Allina officials say. Those fees vanish once the two hospitals become one.

“We are obliged to charge them for an ambulance fee between the two hospitals,” said Sara Criger, the president of Mercy Hospital, during an interview. “We won’t have to do that in the future, so that’ll be a real plus for the community.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how often patients currently are shuttled between the hospitals for services. Theoretically, there could be more transports in the future, since Allina is trying to reduce service duplication between the two campuses.

Last year, Allina moved maternity services from Unity to Mercy, and the health system is spending $17.5 million to renovate space at Unity so mental health services can move in the other direction.

David Kanihan, an Allina spokesman, wrote in an e-mail this week that the dropped ambulance charges fit with other changes: "The patient will not be discharged from one and then readmitted to the other, as occurs today. This will make things simpler for the patient when it comes to billing, insurance etc."

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