D > Hospitals Look To Regional Affiliations

Hospitals Look To Regional Affiliations

NVRH Linking Up With Two Large Hospitals

by Sylvia Dodge

Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital and three other Northeast Kingdom health care organizations expect to finalize agreements with two different large health care providers by the end of this month.

According to Mike Noble, public affairs specialist for Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, "We're looking forward to working with them and we're enthusiastic about this systematic approach to regional health care."

An "affiliation agreement" has been drafted and soon will be in the hands of Fletcher Allen officials, confirmed Paul Bengtson, NVRH chief executive officer, yesterday.

Bengtson said a less formal "cooperative agreement," which establishes a Northeast Kingdom Regional Planning Council, was recently signed by officials at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital and the Northern New England division of the Lahey Hitchcock Clinic.

Despite the different forms the two agreements have taken, said Bengtson, they essentially have the same purpose, to create a systematic regional approach to health care.

The affiliations with Fletcher Allen and Dartmouth-Hitchcock are the result of work done by a local task force, and are unique in that they not only involve NVRH, but also encompass Northeast Kingdom Mental Health Service; Orleans/Essex VNA and Hospice, based in Newport; and Northern Counties Health Care, which operates Caledonia Home Health Care and clinics in Danville, Concord, Island Pond and Hardwick.

"Each of our organizations is going to retain its independence," said David Reynolds, executive director of NCHC, one of the members of the task force.

"We're not interested in being owned," said Reynolds, "but we are interested in working with Fletcher Allen and Dartmouth-Hitchcock."

Bengison said the first step in the process took place 15 months ago when the local health care task force was created to coordinate regional planning. This newest step will link the regional effort with "tertiary centers" like Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Fletcher Allen.

Bengtson said the two agreements are "technically not legal documents" and "depend completely on people being committed to this idea."

Both of the linking agreements set up boards that will meet on a regular basis. Among the goals of the meetings will be developing managed care strategies and looking at ways to develop cost-effective shared services in areas such as community-based specialty care programs, recruitment and retention of health care personnel, information services, and continuing education.

The linking agreements call for the development of annual work plans, and chief among the projects will be creating an integrated health care delivery system among the various partners in the agreements.

The Fletcher Allen agreement spells out that each organization will remain responsible for its own financial operation, and Fletcher Allen will not assume any liabilities of NVRH or the other partners in the agreement. The agreement goes on to say, "The Consortium and Fletcher Allen may agree to join in supporting or securing indebtedness or other grants to benefit one organization or the other, or in supporting joint programs or services, but such arrangements will be subject to mutual agreement, at the sole discretion of each organization."

The Hitchcock agreement gives both parties the right to opt out of joint initiatives if they choose to, as well as the option to terminate the cooperative agreement.

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