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Cooley Dickinson’s bid to join Mass General moves forward with key state approval

  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Cooley Dickinson Hospital Monday afternoon.

    JERREY ROBERTS
    Cooley Dickinson Hospital Monday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • President/CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital Craig Melin speaks during a hearing conducted to consider Cooley Dickinson Hospital's proposed affiliation with Massachusetts General Hospital. The hearing was held Tuesday at Look Park Garden House in Florence. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    President/CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital Craig Melin speaks during a hearing conducted to consider Cooley Dickinson Hospital's proposed affiliation with Massachusetts General Hospital. The hearing was held Tuesday at Look Park Garden House in Florence.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Cooley Dickinson Hospital Monday afternoon.
  • President/CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital Craig Melin speaks during a hearing conducted to consider Cooley Dickinson Hospital's proposed affiliation with Massachusetts General Hospital. The hearing was held Tuesday at Look Park Garden House in Florence. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

NORTHAMPTON — Massachusetts General Hospital’s acquisition of Cooley Dickinson Hospital was approved Wednesday by a state panel, a key step in the eventual merger of the two institutions.

The Public Health Council of the state Department of Public Health, a 14-member appointed body of academics and health advocates, voted unanimously at its monthly meeting in Boston to approve Cooley Dickinson’s “determination of need” application to join Mass General.

The approval represents another step forward in the affiliation process, which has been under way since last year.

Craig Melin, Cooley Dickinson’s president and chief executive officer, said he is pleased that the council supports the choice of Cooley Dickinson’s trustees and the community it serves to become part of the Mass General system.

“Mass General is the right choice as our partner in maintaining a strong local health system in the face of the change in health care from fee-for-service to population health,” Melin said by email.

The affiliation of the two hospitals still requires several more approvals, including from the state attorney general’s office, the state Health Policy Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.

These reviews are expected to continue for several more months, Cooley Dickinson said in a statement after Wednesday’s action.

Melin and Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz spoke in favor of the change at Wednesday’s meeting.

Under the agreement, Cooley Dickinson would keep its name and remain an independently licensed health care provider. The Northampton hospital would also keep its nonprofit and tax-exempt status, and maintain its own board of trustees, medical staff and fundraising activities.

In the statement, Cooley Dickinson said the affiliation would enable the hospitals to work together to ensure local access to high-quality care in the mid-Pioneer Valley; gain efficiencies that will allow Cooley Dickinson to reduce costs and prices; and support Cooley Dickinson in preparing for population-based care and new models of health care delivery.

State health officials were in Northampton in early April for a public hearing on the merger at which community leaders, hospital administrators, staff and volunteers testified that Cooley Dickinson’s long-term security depends on joining a larger system.

Speakers said that in addition to increasing the hospital’s ability to offer quality health care at reduced costs, the agreement would give patients access to some of the best medical knowledge in the world without, in many cases, having to leave the Valley for care.

Cooley Dickinson’s quest for a partner began three years ago and included seven suitors. Hospital trustees decided about a year ago that Mass General was the best fit for the Northampton hospital, ahead of Baystate Health in Springfield.

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