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Editorial: A healthy case for Cooley Dickinson-Mass General merger

The best argument for the proposed merger of Cooley Dickinson Hospital with Massachusetts General Hospital is the simplest: It will improve the quality of health care in the region.

That was a point emphasized by different speakers in different ways at Tuesday’s state Department of Public Health hearing on the merger. It was attended by an estimated 100 community leaders and hospital administrators and staff.

Cooley Dickinson’s board of trustees voted 13 months ago to merge with Mass General and its parent company, Partners HealthCare. An agreement was finalized last fall and paperwork filed in January. The hearing was part of routine government oversight of the merger, which also includes the U.S. Department of Justice and the state Attorney General’s office, which are, respectively, concerned with antitrust issues and protection of consumer interests.

The merger vote came after an exhaustive and deliberative three-year review of options with many opportunities for community members to voice their opinions.

CDH President Craig Melin outlined the arguments for the merger, points that were echoed by other speakers. Melin has noted many times that Cooley Dickinson entered the search for a partner from a position of strength. The merger is about securing and investing in the future of locally based health care delivery. And doing that requires partnering with a larger institution.

Melin said the partnership will strengthen telemedicine and other programs already part of a clinical relationship with Mass General and create new ones. These programs improve patient care while, in many cases, allowing them to be treated. Many spoke to the benefits of giving patients access to some of the best medical minds in the world right from Northampton.

Finances are an issue and Cooley Dickinson will reduce costs by group purchasing with Mass General and refinancing its $60 million bond debt at a lower rate. Reducing costs is a goal of the merger.

Also coming is a shift in health care to what is known as “population-based care,” in which doctors are paid to keep their patients healthy, not just treat their ailments. Massachusetts is emerging as a national leader in this movement and Mass General has made major investments in population health management that will help Cooley Dickinson do the same. CDH in turn has pioneered practices to prevent hospital-acquired infections, something others can learn from.

Mass General was also chosen because its leaders agreed to let CDH be run by the local board of trustees, with some Mass General members joining on. Maintaining local control is critical.

After thousands of hours of research, field work, interviews and meetings, CDH trustees — with a lot of community input — voted to merge with Mass General as the best choice for reducing costs, delivering top patient care and staying competitive in a changing health care industry.

We join Melin and all who spoke Tuesday in urging the Department of Public Health to support the community’s choice.

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