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NNY hospitals seeking to collaborate will try to tap $1.2 billion state capital program

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WATERTOWN — A group of six north country hospitals working together to reduce unnecessary repeat Medicaid admissions and create efficiencies in health care delivery may have found an income source needed to move its effort forward.

Included in the 2014-15 state budget is a new $1.2 billion capital program to support projects that will “improve financial stability and increase efficiency through greater provider collaboration,” according to a news release from the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Exactly how the six-hospital effort could tap into that is something that has yet to be discussed, according to Ben Moore III, who is acting as the group’s spokesman.

“We hope upstate will get a good piece of that,” Mr. Moore said. “We have a definite interest in that. What we think it could really help us with when we look at collaboration is services we deliver, such as concentrating on emergency department or observation beds, and less on acute care.”

That is just one of many possibilities, he said.

Mr. Moore is chief executive officer of River Hospital, Alexandria Bay, one member of the group. Other participants are Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown; Carthage Area Hospital, Carthage; Lewis County General Hospital, Lowville; Clifton-Fine Hospital, Star Lake, and Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Ogdensburg. The hospitals have worked in collaboration throughout the past two years to initiate a plan that could curb costs and create healthier communities.

The group, known as the North Country Initiative, received $3.8 million from a Healthcare Efficiency and Affordability Law for New Yorkers program grant, which helped with the group’s two-year planning stage. Since that money dried up last year, participating hospitals have looked for funding opportunities to push their ideas forward.

Hospitals did not have the extra funds, as most have struggled financially to survive the past few years. Financial instability has occurred for many partner hospitals because of declining federal reimbursement rates, rising pension costs and service deficiencies, among other reasons.

North Country Initiative plans include development of a disease database and establishment of a management service organization and a clinically integrated system. Mr. Moore said the management organization will provide centralized nonphysician services and functions to all participating hospitals. Included could be joint purchasing, reference laboratories and synchronized revenue cycles, such as billing, coding, collection and admissions.

Moving forward with the organization and toward a clinically integrated system, which would involve outcome-based measurements and physicians working collaboratively, would require more capital, Mr. Moore said.

He said the capital program is “a way for the state to motivate collaboration and reward collaboration,” something north country hospitals already have begun.

According to the governor’s website, other highlights of the health portion of the state budget include:

n An agreement to hold insurers accountable for building/maintaining robust provider networks so there are “sufficient” in-network health care options.

n Up to $95 million for health information technology improvements: $65 million for the State Health Information Network of New York, to help work toward a true statewide electronic medical record system and establish an All Payer Claims database. Up to $30 million of federal Medicaid funds also will be available.

n Funds that support a 2 percent salary increase, effective Jan. 1, and another 2 percent increase April 1, 2015, to the lowest-paid direct-care workers.

n $2 million in increased funding to enhance services to deal with a statewide opiate/heroin crisis.

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