Hospital partnership

Kevin Callahan, CEO of Exeter Health Resources, speaks to the audience at Monday's public hearing on a proposed partnership between Exeter Health Resources, Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital.

EXETER — More than 250 people turned out for a public hearing Monday to learn more about a proposed affiliation that would unite Exeter Health Resources, Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital, a move aimed at ensuring high quality healthcare services for patients on the Seacoast.

The Charitable Trusts Unit of the state Attorney General’s office held the hearing at Exeter High School to outline the proposal and address questions and concerns from community members and patients.

Under a proposed agreement, a new New Hampshire nonprofit corporation would be formed to become the parent of both Exeter Health Resources, which includes Exeter Hospital and Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover. The new parent company, which has not yet been named, would be part of Massachusetts General Hospital and would be managed by leadership from the three hospitals.

The proposal must undergo a state and federal regulatory review process, which includes a review by the Charitable Trusts Unit.

While it appeared many in the audience were supportive of the new partnership as a way to expand services and meet other challenges facing the healthcare industry, some worried about losing local control of their community hospitals and making sure that more is done to address the growing need for mental health services and treatment for drug addicts.

According to hospital officials, Exeter Hospital and Wentworth-Douglass would continue to maintain their own locally managed board of directors.

Bob Bear, a retired orthopedic surgeon who practiced at Exeter Hospital for more than 25 years, spoke on behalf of a group of Seacoast residents who support the new partnership but insist that some of the hospital’s nearly $200 million endowment should be used to address addiction and mental illness.

He also said it’s an “opportunity for additional money to be placed under the control of a community board who can direct funds to additional critical needs, for instance, access to primary care for everyone regardless of their ability to pay. The money is there. Let’s do the right thing and put it to good use,” he said.

Kevin Callahan, chief executive officer of Exeter Health Resources, said while they may have differences, the new affiliation would be an opportunity for the three organizations to come together to address mental health and substance abuse.

He said they recognize that they will need “multiple paths to deliver care so that our community is safe.”

Neither Exeter Hospital nor Wentworth-Douglass has an inpatient mental health unit.

Callahan described the affiliation as a “novel opportunity to design care differently for the Seacoast.”

State Rep. Robert “Renny” Cushing, D-Hampton, said he uses Exeter Hospital and wants to make sure the endowment is “safeguarded” and doesn’t get absorbed into Massachusetts General.

In addition to Exeter Hospital, Exeter Health Resources also includes Core Physicians and Rockingham Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice.

Among the benefits of the proposal, hospital leaders say the merger would increase the availability of specialty and sub-specialty care in the region; improve coordination of clinical programs and services across the area; expand the availability of mental health and substance use disorders services; implement system-wide, clinical and quality protocols and best practices to reduce the rate of re-admissions and improve the overall patient experience and satisfaction; and consolidate and coordinate administrative functions and leverage technology advantages for greater operational efficiency and cost savings.

Some have expressed concerns about the possibility of increased costs for insurers or consumers; changes to local control of hospitals and the local administrative workforce; the community benefits and investment policies at Exeter Hospital and Wentworth-Douglass Hospital; changes to provider network that would limit consumer choice of specialists; and whether new services would duplicate existing ones and take patients away from existing local providers.