All four North Country hospitals said Tuesday that they have finally come to a long sought after agreement to work together to reduce costs and provide better service.
It may be possible, they said, to save money in areas ranging from purchasing to not duplicating services.
The hospitals are the Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, Littleton Regional Healthcare, the Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook and the Weeks Medical Center in Lancaster.
The agreement was prompted by wide-ranging, increased economic pressure, executives said during a news conference in Whitefield.
“A larger healthcare system has better opportunities to survive all those challenges than individual hospitals,” said Warren West, the CEO of Littleton Regional Healthcare.
Hospitals in the North Country began discussing such cooperation in 2008.
While no deal was reached those discussions provided the foundation for the new agreement, said Scott Howe, the CEO at Weeks.
“If you go back many years, we were tough competitors with each other,” Howe said. “And, by us beginning to build those relationships over time it has helped to lead us to this point."
The agreement calls for a new non-profit organization – to be called North Country Healthcare - to coordinate the effort. It will be governed by a new board and executives. But each hospital will retain control of its day-to-day operations.
One of the issues is whether each hospital will retain its specialists – such as gastroenterologists.
“We may have to do some specialty care in one or two hospitals alone so we can have the right volume and quality,” said West. But each of the four hospitals must have a “robust” number of primary care physicians, he said.
One goal is to provide enough services so that residents in the North Country won’t have to go south of the notches, said Peter Gosline, the Interim Chief Administrative Officer at the Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital.
Russ Keene, the CEO of the Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, said the hospitals must work together.
“We feel this is the only way we can ultimately maintain a first-class healthcare system in the North Country,” he said.
Exactly how the money will be saved – and how much can be saved - has yet to be worked out because the attorney general has to approve the agreement. If it is approved it is hoped that the plan will be underway early next year.