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Carthage, Samaritan hospitals to form an affiliation

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Carthage Area Hospital and Samaritan Medical Center announced Wednesday that the hospitals will affiliate.

After working with the state Department of Health on the matter throughout the past few months, both hospitals recently entered into a memorandum of understanding that allows them to work together, although a formal plan isn’t expected to be finalized until sometime in 2015, according to Samaritan spokeswoman Krista A. Kittle.

“It enables us to think more of a system,” she said.

Ms. Kittle said a new corporation will be formed, which will have its own board and oversee the system — including Carthage and Samaritan hospitals and their clinics and school-based health centers — as a whole. Both Samaritan Medical Center and Carthage Area Hospital will continue to have their own boards.

Ms. Kittle said the joint system could save money on group purchasing and it could be better for recruitment of specialty physicians. All possibilities will be considered throughout the formalization of the affiliation agreement, she said.

Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, praised Wednesday’s announcement, and said collaborations are happening with many hospitals in rural regions, which avoid closure and loss of services and jobs. That was most recently the case at Lewis County General Hospital, Lowville, which is negotiating with St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, Syracuse, on an affiliation. Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Potsdam, and the former E.J. Noble Hospital, now known as Gouverneur Hospital, entered into a similar agreement after the Gouverneur facility shut down, nearly for good, because of financial and operational problems. Gouverneur and Canton-Potsdam hospitals are now a part of the St. Lawrence Health System, which serves as a parent organization of the two.

The Carthage/Samaritan affiliation also essentially will save Carthage Area Hospital, which has struggled financially throughout the past few years. In October, the hospital cut 29 positions, and more recently laid off 73 workers, only to have 28 jobs retained a short while later.

“For years now, Carthage Area Hospital has been struggling and trying to hold things together,” Mr. Blankenbush said Wednesday from Albany. “It’s one of the biggest employers of the area. I believe an affiliation with Samaritan will only enhance our area’s health-care system, and I think for employees that work there, it’s a breath of fresh air. It will save their jobs and save their hospital. It’s only for the betterment of Carthage.”

Carthage Area Hospital interim Chief Executive Officer Adil Ameer will step down Monday as part of the agreement. According to a joint news release from the hospitals, Mr. Ameer will continue to serve in a consultive capacity, and the Carthage hospital’s top post will “remain unfilled until the formal affiliation is finalized.”

Ms. Kittle said no other administrative changes are anticipated at this time.

“This really helps Carthage Area Hospital maintain as a viable entity in the community without interruption of services,” said Natalie M. Burnham, hospital spokeswoman. “We’ll be able to plan collaborations with Samaritan Medical Center.”

Meanwhile, Kathleen M. Tucker, vice president of Service Employees International Union Local 1199, which represents about 140 workers at the Carthage hospital, said that on behalf of those members, she is disappointed the hospital did not reach out to the union before Wednesday’s announcement. The union represents people who work in dietary, nurse’s aide, clerical, maintenance, licensed practical nurses and technician categories.

Although not happy with how the situation was handled, she said she’s pleased with the affiliation.

Ms. Tucker said members began calling, texting and emailing the union early Wednesday when they saw Samaritan CEO Thomas H. Carman at the Carthage hospital, before the first staff meeting took place at 10 a.m. She said she plans to meet with Carthage Chief Operating Officer Richard A. Duvall on Friday.

Collaborations and partnerships are solutions north country hospitals have explored for the past couple of years since the establishment of the North Country Initiative, a six-hospital effort to curb costs and create healthier communities. Involved hospitals include Carthage; Samaritan; Lewis County General; River Hospital, Alexandria Bay; Clifton-Fine Hospital, Star Lake, and Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Ogdensburg.

The North Country Health Systems Redesign Commission also is looking at ways to reshape health care delivery, and is expected to release its full report next week.

“This really is the direction they’re encouraging hospitals to go, and should be looked favorably on by organizations and really by the community,” Ms. Kittle said.

An affiliation, she said, is important to avoid what happened this week in Massachusetts, where North Adams Regional Hospital, and associated local visiting nurse and hospice groups and three medical practices, gave notice that their facilities will shut down for good Friday, leaving more than 500 people unemployed and thousands of patients without health care.

KEYS TO PARTNERSHIP
• A corporation will form, with its own board, to oversee the system, but both hospitals will continue to have their own boards.
• Adil Ameer will step down as the interim CEO in Carthage.
• The affiliation follows similar moves among north country hospitals, including Canton-Potsdam, Gouverneur and Lewis, all part of a health care consolidation trend.
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