MANCHESTER — Two of the state’s largest health-care systems — overseeing Catholic Medical Center and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center — are officially set to combine.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health and GraniteOne Health announced Wednesday they’ve reached a combination agreement nine months after signing a letter of intent. The deal allows the two sides to seek regulatory approval, which is expected to take between six and 18 months, according to John P. Kacavas, chief legal officer and general counsel at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health.
“We have provided a very good foundation to the regulators with this combination agreement,” he said. “It is a very comprehensive, well-thought out and deliberated-over agreement. This was a year in the making.”
The pro-life group New Hampshire Right to Life opposes the organizations combining because Dartmouth-Hitchcock performs abortions. The group stands by its opposition unless changes are made to end abortions across the entire proposed network.
As part of the agreement, Bishop Peter Libasci issued a “nihil obstat”, or declaration of no objection, according to a news release. Catholic Medical Center would maintain its Catholic model of care, including not performing abortions or sterilizations.
Alex Walker, COO of CMC and GraniteOne Health, said CMC has worked with Libasci and The National Catholic Bioethics Center since talks started on how to address opposition.
“What we are putting together in this combination agreement does not in any way, shape or form compromise or dilute Catholic Medical Center’s Catholic identity and is in strict compliance with the ethical and religious directives for Catholic health care services,” he said.
Elliot Hospital and CMC merged in 1994 to become Optima Health, only to dissolve the merger in early 1999 over several issues, including conflicts between Catholic and secular medicine.
Under the agreement, the two health systems have nearly 2,500 physicians, handle more than 2.1 million outpatient visits a year and record total operating revenues of around $2.7 billion annually. Officials aren’t calling the move a merger but rather a combination of financial, administrative and clinical systems.
The more than a half-dozen hospitals involved would retain their own names and local leadership under the combined nonprofit health care system, which will be called Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health GraniteOne.
The two systems already have long-standing working relationships, including Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Center on CMC’s Manchester campus.
Walker said combining services will enhance access for patients and lower the cost of care in the state.
“Too many patients leave New Hampshire every single year to get care down in Massachusetts at a much higher cost,” he said. “They could receive that care much closer to home at a much lower cost with better quality. Our purpose is to create a truly New Hampshire-based integrated regionally delivered health care system.”
The move will require approval by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Charitable Trusts Unit and Consumer Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. An approval is not guaranteed.
Last month, the Attorney General’s office blocked a proposed merger between the parent companies of Exeter Hospital and Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, because it would likely decrease competition and increase the cost of health care on the Seacoast.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health also includes New London Hospital, Cheshire Medical Center in Keene and Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon.
GraniteOne Health includes Catholic Medical Center, Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro and Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough.
While efficiencies are expected with the combination, details of cost saving will be worked out after the move is approved. Under the deal, both CMC and Dartmouth-Hitchcock will continue with planned expansion projects.
“We are jointly going to make investments in the clinical services area and program development and things that really touch patients first and foremost in infrastructure to meet an incredible need for our services,” Kacavas said.
For more information go to ForAHealthierNH.org.