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BMH looks to bolster ties to Granite State

Hospital announces new ‘strategic partnership’ with Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Cheshire Medical Center

BRATTLEBORO—Brattleboro Memorial Hospital administrators want to strengthen their ties with two health-care providers on the other side of the Connecticut River.

The hospital on April 26 announced formation of a new “strategic partnership” with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health in Lebanon, N.H., and Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene in Keene, N.H.

Also announced was a “joint management committee” that will recommend ways to expand that partnership.

Brattleboro remains an independently governed hospital, and a spokeswoman said the announcement “has nothing to do with a merger — that’s not at all what we’re talking about here.”

Rather, administrators will be looking for ways to boost services — and, presumably, save money — by building on collaborations among the three entities.

“To make care more effective, efficient, affordable and convenient to our patients and families, we need to find new models that ensure excellent care and highest quality to communities in the Keene and Brattleboro area,” Dr. James Weinstein, Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s president and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement issued Tuesday.

Expanding a working relationship

Cheshire Medical already is a Dartmouth-Hitchcock affiliate hospital, an arrangement that took effect in March 2015. And Brattleboro Memorial Hospital already has a working relationship with both hospitals.

For example, Brattleboro’s emergency room is staffed via a partnership with Cheshire Medical Center, and the radiology department is affiliated with Dartmouth.

Also, Brattleboro’s rheumatology office is a satellite of Cheshire’s. And just last month, administrators announced that a new podiatrist had arrived here in collaboration with Cheshire Medical.

In a February interview with VTDigger.org, Brattleboro Memorial President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Gordon said such working agreements are no longer optional.

“The belief that an independent small hospital like BMH can survive on its own in this location, in this market — that’s not going to be the case,” Gordon said. “So we have to develop relationships and form those relationships with our partners.”

At the time, Gordon said Brattleboro Memorial is “not in a position to join our assets” with another hospital in terms of merging governance with Dartmouth or Cheshire. “But we’ve already been creating some very strong synergies between the three organizations that have I think greatly enhanced the care in our region,” he said. “We’re looking forward to continuing that through a different kind of framework.”

Hospital administrators last week said they will be looking at “expanding collaborative opportunities in both administrative and clinical services” at the three facilities.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock is the heavyweight in the group. It includes the Norris Cotton Cancer Center; a children’s hospital; and 24 clinics in New Hampshire and Vermont. In addition to its affiliation with Cheshire Medical, Dartmouth also has affiliate hospitals in New London, N.H., and Windsor, Vt.

Fostering collaboration

Dartmouth-Hitchcock spokesman Rick Adams said it’s still “very early in the process” for the new partnership agreements with Cheshire and Brattleboro. But he confirmed that “it’s not about mergers and acquisitions — it’s about collaboration.”

Administrators said the joint management committee they have formed among the three hospitals includes senior management and board members from each. The April 26 announcement says the joint committee “reflects no changes in the leadership, management or ownership of any of the partner entities.”

The committee is expected to make recommendations about further collaborations, though no time frame for those recommendations was disclosed. Nor did hospital leaders comment specifically on what the new collaborations might be.

Gordon, in a prepared statement released Tuesday, said the hospitals “have complementary clinical services and share a common culture built on exceptional patient care.”

And Dr. Don Caruso, Cheshire’s president, chief executive officer, and chief medical officer, said he expected that “we’ll be able to improve local access to specialty care and seamlessly refer patients between services, while reinforcing the affordability of health care with financially strong and vibrant hospitals.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #355 (Wednesday, May 4, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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