PLATTSBURGH — A proposed affiliation among Fletcher Allen Health Care, CVPH Medical Center and Elizabethtown Community Hospital could result in many benefits for patients and health-care providers across the region, says CVPH President and Chief Financial Officer Stephens Mundy.
The agreement — which also includes Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, Vt. — would connect all four hospitals under the governance of Fletcher Allen Partners, though each facility would retain its current identity and remain a separate, free-standing hospital with its own board, management, workforce and medical staff.
"Whatever benefits this will have for the hospital will be represented in the benefits for the patient," Mundy said Monday afternoon, shortly after a letter of intent was signed by the four facilities.
"It will translate into more coordinated care for patients and easier access of patient information, and physicians will be more available on this side of the lake."
ACCESS TO CAPITAL
Rod Boula, ECH chief executive director, said he is excited about the possibilities the affiliation would offer his facility in Elizabethtown.
"ECH is a strong organization, and partnering with other strong organizations like Fletcher Allen Partners will help serve our local community members through access to specialists, including the use of telemedicine; the potential of adding clinical rotations for primary-care physicians; and providing ECH with access to capital so expansion projects or major equipment purchases can be easily undertaken," he said.
'A 'BIG PLUS'
Patients entering the health-care system through CVPH Medical Center are regularly transferred to Fletcher Allen in Burlington for advanced care in such programs as neurology.
Having CVPH and Fletcher Allen under the same umbrella of leadership could result in much stronger coordination between the two facilities' communications systems, Mundy noted.
Each hospital uses a different communications network, and though no discussions have focused on moving toward one system, an affiliation could make that process easier to initiate, he added.
It could also lead to improved physician recruitment for the region, an issue that has plagued communities on this side of Lake Champlain for years.
"Having this kind of relationship would be a big plus for all four institutions," Mundy said. "That's an attraction we can promote in our recruitment process."
One of the stipulations being considered by the parties is a plan to develop a medical internship program for primary-care physicians at the University of Vermont's Medical College that would include completing a portion of their residency at CVPH.
"This will give physicians a chance to see what we have to offer at CVPH," said Paul Sands, chair of Community Providers Inc. (CPI), the parent company of CVPH Medical Center and Elizabethtown Community Hospital. "It could result in long-term benefits for our community."
"There will be opportunities for a number of specialists to consider our area as students rotate through CVPH," Mundy added, noting that fields like neurology and psychiatry would be especially strengthened if physicians chose to relocate to the North Country permanently.
The agreement could translate into an upgrade for the CVPH nursery wing. Fletcher Allen Health Care provides Level 3 neonatal care, including support for severely premature babies. CVPH's nursery is currently at Level 1 but could upgrade to Level 2, meaning that some babies being cared for at Fletcher Allen could be transferred to CVPH, opening much-needed space for the most serious cases across Lake Champlain.
The hospitals could see major cost savings through the partnership.
"It's a huge potential," Mundy said. "E'town is a $20 million hospital (in annual operating costs), but they can purchase supplies like a $320 million hospital, thanks to their affiliation with CVPH. If we affiliate with Fletcher Allen, we become a $1.5 billion hospital when it comes to purchasing. That could save 5 percent or $2 million a year just in purchasing. That's a lot of money, no matter how you count it."
A TEST RUN
Employees could see additional benefits in educational opportunities available to them, he added. CVPH has historically supported promotions from within, utilizing continued education.
Community Providers Inc. would continue to oversee operations at CVPH and ECH but would answer to the parent company. Members of CPI would sit on the Fletcher Allen Partners Board of Directors.
Fletcher Allen Partners, established in October 2011, has approval powers over significant actions by Fletcher Allen Health Care and Central Vermont Medical Center, including election of trustees; adoption of annual budgets and strategic plans; the development of new programs and services; selection of hospital CEOs; and other major transactions.
Fletcher Allen Partners would have those same powers over CVPH and ECH should the affiliation be completed.
"This is a chance for us all to be cooperative rather than competitive," Sands said. "Talks started about a year ago, and all board entities (including CPI and CVPH) have voted almost unanimously that this is the direction we want to go."
There is no anticipated timeline for final approval of the affiliation. Both sides will now go through a "test run" before making a final decision to seek the permitting required to cement the permanent agreement.
Email Jeff Meyers at: firstname.lastname@example.org