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Editorial: Stakes high for Cooley Dickinson’s new ownership

Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton.


Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

The president of Massachusetts General Hospital is pledging to make good on commitments it put on the table while a suitor to acquire Cooley Dickinson Hospital. With that, Dr. Peter L. Slavin signaled he recognizes that people in the Valley who depend upon the Northampton hospital want something in exchange for their institution’s loss of independence.

While Mass General is one of the best hospitals in the country, Cooley Dickinson needs a pragmatic partner, not just a prestigious one.

We think the deal will help Cooley Dickinson succeed in a changing health care environment, in part by finding ways to lower its costs and be more competitive. That was a main goal the hospital’s leaders set when they began years ago to hunt for a new partner, a search that ended with the choice of Mass General over Baystate Health Systems in Springfield.

We appreciate that Slavin, who spoke to Cooley Dickinson staff and supporters in a videoconference last week, put a marker down about honoring his institution’s commitments to people in the Valley.

The details of the Northampton hospital’s affiliation with Mass General are now spelled out and on file with the Secretary of State’s office. As of July 1, the two are joined, with Mass General leaders taking three seats on Cooley Dickinson’s board and the larger hospital responsible for its far smaller partner’s future.

Given the pace of change in health care and health care financing in the United States, that future is sure to keep changing, particularly with the rollout of what is known as population-based care. A central part of that is restructuring health care to promote overall wellness rather than waiting for people to get sick and seek higher-level, and higher cost, health care. Mass General is considered a leader in efforts to both improve care and reduce medical costs — one goal of this new model of health care.

It’s interesting to note that the T-shirts passed around July 1, when the hospital celebrated the start of its new relationship, said “Cooley Dickinson Health Care, Massachusetts General Hospital Affiliate.”

Missing from Cooley’s name there is the word “hospital,” perhaps because the institution wants to be more to the people in its region than the place they go for surgery or when seriously ill.

One of the first new benefits of the new alliance, officials say, will be the use in Northampton of a 3-D mammography technology developed at Mass General. The system seeks to help with the early detection of breast cancer.

The two parties aren’t starting from scratch, and that’s good. They’ve been working together clinically in cancer treatment since 2009. That relationship will grow with the creation of a comprehensive cancer-care center in Northampton, officials say.

Because its new partner is a long way off in Boston, Cooley Dickinson expects to bring advances right to Northampton, reducing the need for patients to leave for care once associated only with bigger medical centers.

If all goes as planned, this deal strengthens hospital care in Northampton and protects the institution’s viability, without introducing changes that alarm the Cooley Dickinson faithful. It has been a quiet revolution that required thousands of hours of study, travel and debate.

It took time because much was — and is — at stake.

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