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3 Cos hospitals form Northern N. H. Healthcare Collaborative, LLC

July 18, 2012
CONCORD — The boards of the three hospitals located in Cos County — Androscoggin Valley Hospital (AVH), Weeks Medical Center (WMC) and Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital (UCVH) — announced last week that they have voted to formalize agreements to pursue collaboration to provide greater access, quality and affordability in the delivery of health care services.

All three are Critical Access Hospitals. Both WMC and AVH are operating 25 beds, and UCVH is operating 18, making a combined total of 68 beds. The three organizations' combined budgets total approximately $110 million.

In 2008 the boards and senior management of the three hospitals began informal discussions to consider ways in which collaboration would increase access, streamline costs and ensure sustainable local healthcare would benefit the citizens of the North Country over the short and long term.

The three hospitals and their boards are moving forward with a new joint venture — the Northern New Hampshire Healthcare Collaborative, LLC — to begin further collaborative efforts to share services, facilities, technology, staffing and some back-office functions.

The Collaborative is established as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC); its board is made up of three representatives from each Hospital. No immediate changes will be made to relationships with Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

Officials at all three hospitals say that they will now begin working out more details with the staffs of each hospital.

"We believe our most important asset is our dedicated staff," said WMC CEO Scott Howe in a prepared statement. "They are the reason we are able to deliver a consistent level of quality care to our patients every day. Our collaboration will create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts and will result in new efficiencies and additional services becoming available to the patients we serve in the North Country. Our collective clinical staffs represent some of the most talented and dedicated health care professionals practicing today. We believe we can keep quality care here at home in Cos County where it belongs close to the patients we serve."

Asked if patients will notice any immediate changes, Howe replied, "There will be no immediate change for patients. We currently have many physicians that are working in multiple communities. This will continue and additional sharing will occur in the future."

The Cos County patient population has been hard hit by challenges to the local economy, a demonstrated need for services, and a high number of uninsured, underinsured Medicare and Medicaid patients, hospital officials point out. Given all these factors and the continued changes at the state and federal level affecting the healthcare industry, officials from all three hospitals agreed that without collaboration between them at least some of them would not be able to sustain operations and meet the demands of their own missions. The hospitals have worked with state officials to ensure that the collaborative will comply with antitrust and charitable trust laws.

Hospital officials have launched a new informational website — www.nnhhc.com — to provide additional information for patients.

"We will work together to ensure access to quality, local care within our communities and to control the cost of that care by working together and investing in innovative programs, new specialty services, efficient delivery of care, and shared resources," said AVH CEO Russ Keene in a prepared statement.

"These three institutions had the foresight to move forward on this alliance long before federal healthcare reform legislation was enacted and before concerns regarding the sustainability of both Medicare and Medicaid became clearer in Washington," said UCVH Chief Administrative Officer Charlie White in a prepared statement.

"Our Board is very confident that the Management Agreement for UCVH we have signed with WMC and AVH will help sustain care in Colebrook," said UCVH board chairman Winston Young, referring to a joint proposal from those two hospitals that led to a Management Agreement to be implemented as part of the collaboration. "The world of health care is changing quickly and all three hospitals, our boards and senior management teams share in seeking to provide value, access and quality to our citizens. Clearly we can do this far more effectively by collaborating than by attempting to go it alone."

AVH board chairman Mark Kelley and WMC board chairman Lisa Tetreault had similar things to say about the efficacy of collaboration. All three board chairman signed a joint statement that is on the new collaborative's website: "The NNHHC and its member hospitals are prepared to manage costs and coordinate care in a way that is financially sustainable, while continuing to provide local access to quality care throughout the county and beyond. The hospitals of Cos County must work together as critical parts of our Cos County care, economy and community."

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