Health network vows better care

Hospital officials believe the long-awaited merger of three regional health care organizations will

Hospital officials believe the long-awaited merger of three regional health care organizations will create a network that will help streamline and revolutionize the process through which patients receive services.

Northeast Health, St. Peter’s Health Service and Seton Health have begun operating under the umbrella organization called St. Peter’s Health Partners, officials said Monday at a news conference.

Hospitals involved in the merger are Albany Memorial and St. Peter’s in Albany, St. Mary’s and Samaritan in Troy and Sunnyview Rehabilitation in Schenectady. Executives with the new organization are calling it the largest hospital consortium in the Capital Region and boasted that it will create the most comprehensive nonprofit network of health care services.

St. Peter’s Health Partners will have an annual budget of roughly $1.1 billion, encompass about 125 different locations throughout the Capital Region and include more than 11,700 workers, making it the region’s largest private employer. But while the new organization began doing business this month, full integration of the three systems may take up to three years to complete.

The merger is the culmination of four years of discussions among the three organizations. Steven Boyle, chief executive officer of the newly formed organization, said the process extended longer than anticipated, but allowed planners to fully explore the benefits in cost-effectiveness and accessibility provided by the merger.

“This is a historic step forward for health care in our region,” he said during the news conference. “Although it has taken longer than we originally anticipated, the knowledge gained from this far-reaching process … made it more and more apparent that this merger is the right thing to do for the communities served by our medical institutions.”

The merger will create a new model called an accountable care organization. The system will create bundled payments for patients, meaning they can receive a cost estimate for a procedure that will take them from referral through rehabilitation.

Dr. James Reed, the new organization’s president and a former practicing family care physician, said he’d often encounter patients who were befuddled by medical procedures done in a segmented health care system. He said tracking a patient moving between physicians and facilities was difficult, even from a doctor’s perspective.

“Sometimes they had been to three different specialists and four different facilities,” he said.

Boyle said the consortium should help change that atmosphere. With an overarching organization in place, physicians and patients should have an easier time tracking their progress through the St. Peter’s system, even if a given procedure involves several different facilities, he said.

“It won’t be in one location, but it will be in one system that will be easier to navigate,” he said.

Another key to the merger plan is an estimated investment of more than $55 million in upgrades to the network’s facilities. Significant upgrades are being planned for the two hospitals in Troy, as well as Albany Memorial.

All of the new system’s home care operations are being organized under Eddy Visiting Nurses Association. St. Peter’s Hospital Home Care stopped taking new patients at the end of September and will cease operations by November.

Seton Health’s home care wing closed in August. Most of the patients and workers from the two closed agencies were moved to Eddy.

In addition, St. Peter’s Hospital’s inpatient physical medicine and rehabilitation beds will be transferred to Schenectady’s Sunnyview. Cardiac care at Samaritan in Troy will be expanded, which will allow the facility to perform angioplasty procedures sometime next year.

Still unclear is how the new organization will affect the cost of health care for patients. Robert Hinckley, a senior vice president for area health insurer CDPHP, questioned whether the new system will bring savings to patients, but said his organization supports the merger either way.

“While traditionally, these mergers have resulted in increases in medical costs, we believe this merger provides the opportunity to truly advance innovative payment systems that can increase efficiencies, reduce costs and improve quality in this region. For that reason, we have been supportive of the merger,” he said in a news release.

Boyle said the efficiencies of the new system will help stem the tide of health care cost increases. At the very least, he said, the new system will provide an opportunity to explore new methods of health care delivery that could bring increased savings in the future.

“[With the merger] I can guarantee we will find ways we never thought of to improve quality and reduce cost,” he said. “Ultimately, the benefit of all of this is to the community.

Categories: Schenectady County

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