Hospital collaboration shifts gears


BRATTLEBORO -- Talks between the region's two hospitals, which were undertaken to save money and create better efficiencies, have been scaled back as the two organizations figure out their next step in building closer ties.

The leaders of the boards of directors at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Grace Cottage Hospital released a joint press release Friday saying the two hospitals will remain independent, separate entities, while continuing to try to find ways to more efficiently deliver health care to the patients of Windham County.

"Both hospitals share a long and strong relationship and are committed to continuing to work to provide the highest level of patient care, together and individually, in the future," BMH Chairman of the Board Peter Carvell, and Grace Cottage Board Chairman Stephan Morse said in the joint statement.

About one year ago the two hospitals announced that they would work with Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon, N.H., to find ways to save money and collaborate to create more efficient health care systems within Windham County.

A health care management firm, Helms & Company of Concord, N.H., was brought on to interview staff, senior leadership teams and community members from both organizations to come up with a plan to help coordinate services between the hospitals.

In the joint statement Carvell and Morse said the two hospitals will continue to work together, but will not merge at the board level.

Representatives from Helms & Company refused to release any its data, and leaders from the two hospitals said the talks between the two boards have been held in executive sessions.

"Early on in the process there was a confidentiality agreement executed by both BMH and Grace Cottage," Carvell said. "Above and beyond the joint statement that was issued by both organizations, I unfortunately don't have any further comment."

As the study was being rolled out last spring and summer hospital leaders expressed enthusiasm over the possibilities of improving health care outcomes, and saving money, through a stronger collaboration between BMH and Grace Cottage.

"One of our highest goals at Dartmouth-Hitchcock is population health for the region," Dartmouth-Hitchcock Executive Vice President for Strategy and Network Relations Steven Leblanc said in April 2013. "Through this collaboration with BMH, Grace Cottage and Helms, we will continue to support the regional coordination of care delivery."

"We hope the review will identify possibilities for cooperation that will benefit all of our patients," said Dr. Robert Backus, a member of the Grace Cottage medical staff since 1978.

Grace Cottage CEO Mick Brandt left in Nov. 2012 and the hospital said it was going to wait until the Helms & Company report was completed before hiring a full time CEO. Long-time board member and Townshend resident Roger Allbee was named interim CEO on Jan. 1 and on April 21 he was named the hospital's official chief executive officer and administrator. Jeanne Fortier is the chief operating officer.

"Helms & Company of Concord, New Hampshire, has completed a Shared Services Study, and the results are being carefully evaluated," Grace Cottage interim CEO Roger Allbee said in the hospital's spring newsletter. "Grace Cottage's relationship with both BMH and DHMC has been extremely strong and interactive for many decades, and we're carefully assessing the needs of our patients and the communities we serve as we look ahead,"

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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