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North Country hospitals sign affiliation agreement

By Barbara Tetrault

WHITEFIELD — The four North Country hospitals — Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, Weeks Medical Center in Lancaster, Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook, and Littleton Regional Healthcare — have formalized plans to form a common parent organization to be known as North Country Healthcare.
The four hospital CEOs and board chairs signed an affiliation agreement in a ceremony held Tuesday morning at the Mountain View Grand resort. The agreement and management service agreement will now go to the N.H. Attorney General's office and its Division of Charitable Trusts for review and approval. That approval process is expected to take a minimum of 120 days. There will also be a series of public information meetings in each hospital community. The new organization is expected to be in operation in early 2016.
AVH CEO Russ Keene stressed the four hospitals will remain individual medical institutions with their own local boards of directors and medical staff. The hospitals will also maintain control over their endowment and charitable assets.
But the hospitals will give up some autonomy to the new parent organization, which will have a CEO, CFO and board of directors. The goal will be to develop a highly coordinated health care network that "will improve quality, increase efficiencies, and lower the cost of health care delivery in the North Country region."
"This preserves access to high quality, personal health care for people in the North Country and positions us to meet future challenges," said UCVH Interim Chief Administrative Officer Peter Gosline.
LRH CEO Warren West said the immediate benefit of the pact will be increased purchasing power. Gosline said savings are also expected to come in sharing services as well as enabling residents to receive medical services in the North Country and not have to travel outside the region.
Weeks CEO Scott Howe admitted that significant savings may take a year or two to materialize.
"It is going to take a while to figure this out," he said.
But Keene said the hospitals and boards think the affiliation will ultimately present tremendous opportunities. He said collectively the hospitals believe they can do things that individually would be unimaginable.
The hospital officials said increasing health-care costs and the North Country economy forced the move to look at regionalization. The region's rapidly aging population means an increasing number of patients depend on government health insurance programs, which historically pay less than actual costs. At the same time, private health insurance coverage has declined.
"Standing still is not an option," said Steve Ahnen, president of the N.H. Hospital Association.

A 21-member board will govern North County Healthcare with representation based on the size of each hospital. But West said many decisions will require a two-thirds or even a 75 percent vote to pass. An exit clause allows each hospital to opt out of the agreement after three years.
The hospitals said they did consider affiliating with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical System but rejected that because each hospital would be a very small player in that system. They said the affiliation maintains local control.
West stressed that Dartmouth-Hitchcock has helped with some research options and will continue to accept patients from the four hospitals.
Keene noted they searched for national models of similar affiliations but could not find any. Gosline said other organizations are watching and North Country Healthcare could become a national model.
The four organizations signed a letter of intent almost a year ago. Since that initial announcement, the CEOs said an extensive due diligence process has been underway. Each hospital has had to share information, legal documents, and contracts. Keene said they put together a five-year business plan.
David Atkinson, head of the Weeks Hospital board of directors, said the initial effort by the three northern hospitals to work together back in 2008 was important in building trust. He said prior to that the hospitals had been fierce competitors.
In addition to the affiliation, the four hospitals plus Cottage Hospital in Woodsville, Indian Stream Health Center, Coos County Family Health Services, and Ammonoosuc Community Health Services are collectively seeking a grant from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. The grant program is designed to help rural providers with fees and reimbursements under Medicare.
More information on the affiliation can be found at www.northcountryhealth.org

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 July 2015 19:49

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Stark covered bridge formally re-opened Saturday

By Barbara Tetreault
STARK — The historic Stark covered bridge formally reopened Saturday with a ceremony that celebrated the preservation of one of the state's most photographed symbols.
 
Stark---first-acrossOldest citizen Beatrice Tuttle, 95, and son, Dennis Lunn, are first across the reopened bridge. (BARBARA TETREAULT PHOTO)The Paddleford-style truss bridge has been closed for 14 months while a $1.4 million restoration of the structure was underway.
 
Hundreds gathered for the reopening ceremony that featured a brief history of the bridge, a singing of "America the Beautiful" by Stark Village School students, a ribbon cutting and a ceremonial first walk by the town's oldest resident.
 
State Rep. Wayne Moynihan (D-Dummer) said the white covered bridge over the Upper Ammonoosuc River with the Union Church and the rugged Devil Slide in the background has become the most photographed scene in the state since the loss of the Old Man of the Mountain.
 
"This site in Stark has become the symbol of New Hampshire," he said.
 
Master of ceremonies Wayne Saunders described how he suggested the bridge be dedicated to the memory of longtime Stark Selectman Jim Eich, who successfully pursued the $904,000 National Historic Covered Bridge grant for the project.
 

Last Updated on Monday, 29 June 2015 23:45

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'Hands-free' distracted driving law starts July 1

By Kirstan Lukasak

BERLIN — Starting Wednesday, drivers will no longer be able to use hand-held devices while driving. The new law hopes to combat distracted driving, a major contributing factor to accidents across the state.

 

Last Updated on Monday, 29 June 2015 23:41

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Celebrating homeownership by renovating home for veteran

By Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN — After a U.S. Rural Development loan enabled him to purchase a house in Berlin, a partnership of organizations and volunteers helped veteran James Hills turn the property into a home.
 
Homeowner-week-1Volunteers help fix up James Hills' home in Berlin. (BARBARA TETREAULT PHOTO)Last Friday, dozens of volunteers helped paint the house and plant a garden — the finishing touches to over $22,000 of work done to the property.

"Homeownership is good for the homeowner, good for the community and good for our economy," said USDA Rural Development N.H. and Vermont State Director Ted Brady, noting that June is National Homeownership Month.

A Navy and Army National Guard veteran, Hills, 62, was living in a relative's remote cabin in Greenville, Maine, when he began searching for a house to purchase in New Hampshire.
 
His sister and brother-in-law owned property in this area, so he contacted Coulombe Real Estate, which found him the house at 33 Pine Island Ave. in Berlin.

Last Updated on Monday, 29 June 2015 23:46

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