COLEBROOK — In an effort to reach a greater number of North Country residents and provide them quality health care, the directors of three northern New Hampshire medical facilities have decided to launch a collaborative effort.
Culminating four years of planning and discussion, the boards of directors of Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook, Weeks Medical Center in Lancaster and Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin have voted to go forward with the plan, called Northern New Hampshire Healthcare Collaborative.
“We will work together to ensure access to quality local care within our communities and to control the cost of that care by … investing in innovative programs, new specialty services, efficient delivery of care and shared resources,” Russ Keene, Androscoggin CEO, said in a written statement.
The boards are “moving forward … to share services, facilities, technology, staffing and certain (other) functions,” directors said, adding that administrators will begin now to work out more details with the staff of each hospital.
As has been true on many societal fronts, nationwide, since 2008, the Coos County patient population has been hard hit by challenges to the economy.
A demonstrated need for services remains among the high number of uninsured, underinsured Medicare and Medicaid patients, according to officials of the three facilities, especially given the continued changes at the state and federal level that affect the health care industry, including in New Hampshire's northernmost county.
“These three institutions had the foresight to move forward on this alliance long before federal health care reform legislation was enacted,” said Charlie White, chief administrative officer at Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital, “and before concerns regarding the sustainability of both Medicare and Medicaid became clearer in Washington,”
Mark Kelley, the Androscoggin Valley board chairman, said, “Our goal is to improve the quality of care available and maintain costs which can be sustained by businesses and individual patients in an economically challenged area.”
In 2008, at the start of the current economic downturn, the boards and senior managers of the three hospitals began informal discussions to consider ways in which collaboration would increase access.
Their focus was on streamlining costs and ensuring that sustainable local health care would be within the reach of North Country residents, short term and long term.
Officials of all three hospitals agreed that without collaboration among them, some facilities would likely not be able to sustain operations and meet demands.
The hospitals have worked with state officials to ensure that the collaborative will comply with antitrust and charitable trust laws, administrators said.
“We believe our most important asset is our dedicated staff,” said Scott Howe, Weeks CEO.
“Our collective clinical staffs, physicians and mid-level providers represent some of the most talented and dedicated health care professionals practicing today.”
Hospital officials have launched a new informational website — www.nnhhc.com — to provide additional information for patients.