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North Bay doctors group adopts new name

No longer will the Marin/Sonoma IPA group, a network of independent doctors and health care providers in the North Bay, be associated with the popular beer style.

The group is changing its name to Meritage Medical Network, a move that reflects its aggressive push into Wine Country and beyond. Originally based in Marin County, in recent years the group has affiliated with doctors and medical facilities in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Healdsburg and Sonoma Valley.

"We're looking at expanding even further. We really don't want to be tied to a geography," said Marcy Norenius, Meritage director of special projects.

Meritage CEO Joel Criste said the network also wanted to emphasize its expansion beyond physician affiliations.

"We are a network of physicians, nurses, clinical and administrative staff, hospitals, surgery centers, urgent care centers, rehabilitation facilities, wellness classes, educators and more," he said in a statement.

Technically, the network will continue to be an IPA, or independent practice association. Participation in the network means affiliated doctors will accept HMO patients who are enrolled with Meritage.

There are currently more than 500 physicians affiliated with Meritage.

For its part, Meritage takes over the task of negotiating contracts with HMO plans. The group also offers continuing medical education courses, patient health education and professional support for adopting electronic health records.

"We still do the same things as an IPA," Norenius said. "We just have a name now that is more understandable to our patients."

The name Meritage is a combination of the words merit and heritage. In the wine business, Meritage is a red or white wine made from certain Bordeaux grape varieties. The term was first coined by a group of Napa Valley vintners in the late 1980s.

After an initial push into Sonoma County, Meritage has set its sights on the other half of Wine Country: Napa County.

"We like that it adds a wine connotation," Norenius said. "We are looking at Napa. It's not for sure yet . . . there's no timeline, nothing decided."

But she added, "Napa for now is where we're heading. We'd like to expand even further than that if we need to."

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com

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