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Merger of Cooley Dickinson, Mass General supported

  • 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 »

  • President of Mass General Hospital Peter L. Slavin, MD 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 of Mass General Hospital Peter L. Slavin, MD 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 »

  • Northampton Sheriff Robert Garvey speaks during a hearing conducted to consider Cooley Dickinson Hospital's proposed affiliation with Massachusetts General Hospital, Tuesday, April 2, 2013. The hearing was held at Look Park Garden House in Florence. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Northampton Sheriff Robert Garvey speaks during a hearing conducted to consider Cooley Dickinson Hospital's proposed affiliation with Massachusetts General Hospital, Tuesday, April 2, 2013. The hearing was held at Look Park Garden House in Florence.

    SARAH CROSBY 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 of Mass General Hospital Peter L. Slavin, MD 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 Sheriff Robert Garvey speaks during a hearing conducted to consider Cooley Dickinson Hospital's proposed affiliation with Massachusetts General Hospital, Tuesday, April 2, 2013. The hearing was held at Look Park Garden House in Florence. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

Several months ago, the county’s longtime sheriff unexpectedly found himself on the operating table at the Boston hospital’s emergency room for bleeding in the head.

The operation was a success, Garvey told officials from the state Department of Public Health Tuesday, in part because of the excellent communication between doctors at both hospitals.

“At no time did I think that there was anything that they were concerned about other than my care,” he said.

Garvey joined a wave of about 100 community leaders, hospital administrators, staff and volunteers, and others at a special hearing Tuesday calling on the health department to approve Mass General’s acquisition of Cooley Dickinson.

“I think of this as just one more step that Cooley Dickinson Hospital is taking to further increase the care that is given to the people in Hampshire and Franklin counties and in the greater Northampton area,” Garvey said.

Dozens of proponents who spoke at the hearing, held at Look Park, said the affiliation is the wisest and best move for Cooley Dickinson and its patients.

Craig Melin, Cooley Dickinson’s president and chief executive officer, said the hospital’s board of trustees believes the long-term security of a locally managed health system depends on joining a larger system to maintain strong services and programs and invest in the future.

“For us, that right choice is Massachusetts General Hospital,” Melin said. “We ask you to support our community’s choice.”

Melin outlined four of Cooley Dickinson’s main goals during brief remarks to open the hearing and explained why Mass General is the best choice to help the hospital achieve those goals. They include:

Partnering with an institution that will strengthen and expand its programs to ensure greater local access to care.

Current clinical affiliations with Massachusetts General demonstrate they can do this, Melin said. For example, a cancer affiliation has helped patients stay local, going to Boston only if needed. Telemedicine enables Massachusetts General neurologists to rapidly assess stroke patients in Cooley Dickinson’s emergency department.

“We see the improvement in care and access, but there are limitations on what we can do through our existing clinical relationships,” Melin said.

Joining Mass General and its parent company, Partners HealthCare, will allow Cooley Dickinson to better meet community needs than it could do on its own, he said.

Dr. Peter Slavin, president of Mass General, added that the two hospitals would work together to ensure that care is provided in the most appropriate, least expensive location whenever possible.

“We are so excited about the prospect of enhancing local programs as well as expanding telemedicine initiatives, which bring the expertise of Mass General sub-specialists remotely to Cooley Dickinson,” Slavin said.

∎ Decrease prices by reducing costs. Melin said Cooley Dickinson has recently dropped many prices by 15 percent or more, but it needs help to further reduce costs.

Affiliation with Mass General will allow the hospital to reduce the cost of supplies through group purchasing, refinance $60 million in bond debt at lower cost and computer system improvements aimed at coordinating patient care.

∎ Help in preparing for population-based care, a new health care model sweeping the country. Mass General has made major investments in population health management, including restructuring its primary care practices into a patient-centered home model and paying special attention to patients at high risk of chronic disease or multiple illnesses.

This expertise and financial investment will help Cooley Dickinson do the same, Melin said.

∎ A partner who would grant local control of key issues affecting Cooley Dickinson. The agreement calls for Cooley Dickinson to continue to be guided by a local board of trustees, which will be responsible for decisions that include borrowing in excess of $500,000 and strategic planning such as approval of capital and operating budgets.

Besides Slavin, several Cooley Dickinson administrators and staff joined Melin at the hearing, as well as hospital volunteers and members of the hospital’s auxiliary.

The hearing also drew representatives from U.S. Rep. James McGovern’s office, state Sen. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, and Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz and Fire Chief Brian Duggan.

All speakers said the merger will increase the hospital’s ability to offer quality health care at reduced costs and give patients access to some of the best medical minds in the world without, in many cases, having to leave the Valley for care.

Slavin said the two hospitals have a long history of collaboration, dating to 1965.

“Fifty years later, Cooley Dickinson and Mass General are looking to strengthen their long-standing bond to benefit patients and families throughout this community,” Slavin said.

Jeanne Johndrow, a nurse for more than 40 years at Cooley Dickinson, said the merger will enhance the ability of the nursing staff to care for patients, strengthen services and programs the hospital can offer and provide better educational and training opportunities.

“Being acquired by a hospital like Mass General is something very appealing to me,” Johndrow said.

David Neal, a volunteer patient representative at Cooley Dickinson who meets with patients twice a week to gauge their hospital experience, also urged the department to rule favorably on the merger.

“Cooley Dickinson must retain its identity and the way they care for patients, but if it will enhance that care both here and in Boston then it’s not a question of if, but when, it will happen,” Neal said.

Cooley Dickinson’s board of trustees decided about a year ago to merge with the Boston institution after three years of study and choosing from among seven suitors interested in Cooley Dickinson.

The two hospitals solidified an affiliation agreement last fall and in January filed paperwork with the DPH.

Bernard Plovnick, director of the health department’s Determination of Need Program, said all oral and written testimony will be forwarded to a Public Health Council for review. He said that 14-member body is expected to make a ruling on the merger in May or June.

The agreement is also up for antitrust review with the U.S. Department of Justice. The state attorney general’s office will also weigh in on the deal, but will do so through the Public Health Council process rather than require a separate application.

People who were not able to attend Tuesday’s hearing can submit written comments through April 17 to Department of Public Health, Determination of Need Program, 99 Chauncy St., second floor, Boston, MA 02111, or by email to jere.page@state.ma.us.

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