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Sun., Nov. 23
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Three venerable health care institutions last week recognized the pressure to turn their backs on yesterday and chart new courses to ensure health care would remain close to home.

The Massena Memorial Hospital board of managers saw that the future as a government-operated facility was bleak and recommended it be converted to private, nonprofit status. And Jefferson County’s two health care facilities announced a plan to form a partnership that should reduce costs, preserve jobs and ensure that north country residents maintain access to exceptional medical services.

Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown and Carthage Area Hospital have begun the process of affiliating their systems, officials said Wednesday. Adil Ameer, interim chief executive officer of Carthage Area Hospital, will step down from his position Monday and serve as a consultant.

The two facilities entered into a memorandum of understanding that allows them to work together until a formal plan is finalized in 2015.This move will save the financially struggling Carthage Area Hospital, which has had to cut more than 70 positions in the past few months.

With persistent reductions in Medicare payments, operating small hospitals in rural areas of Northern New York has become incredibly challenging. These facilities no longer have the patient base required to sustain themselves.

The change of direction in Massena and the affiliation between Samaritan Medical Center and Carthage Area Hospital are long overdue. Both Massena and Carthage now have a better chance to provide local services.

Change is inevitable in these scenarios as officials streamline functions and services to make the new health care model a success. But the reality of medical economics today leaves no other choice. The decisions are smart moves that will offer residents the care they require in modern, efficient settings closely linked to higher levels of expertise.

The North Country Health Systems Redesign Commission is evaluating health care from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario. As part of its report, the commission should recommend that the New York State Department of Health provide substantial financial assistance to make these models work.

The state has an obligation to meaningfully support the new partnership financially as Samaritan accepts the challenge to reverse the consistent and historic financial losses incurred by Carthage. This is the only way to guarantee vital medical services in sparsely populated regions.

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