Saratoga and Glens Falls hospitals are exploring opportunities for collaboration, a growing trend among hospitals as the nation’s health care system shifts toward lowering costs through strategic alignments.
The two hospitals, just 19 miles apart at the northern fringe of the Capital Region, already work together in some areas, including comprehensive cancer care and shared coverage for medical specialties. But in recent meetings, their separate boards agreed for the first time to begin exploring through a formal process more opportunities and areas for collaboration.
If the news sounds familiar, that’s because it is. In early 2013, Glens Falls Hospital said it was going to begin exploring ways to collaborate more with Albany Medical Center, a huge regional hospital to the south. But those plans were derailed before they ever took off.
“Those discussions were very short-lived, as there was a change early in the year at Glens Falls Hospital with our leadership,” said Dianne Shugrue, who took over as president and CEO of the hospital in April 2013. “We were also facing a difficult year and an operating loss, so our focus really was on internal stabilization and getting our house in order to develop an operating plan for 2014 that was achievable.”
Now that it has done just that, Glens Falls Hospital wants to look at common-sense collaborations with a smaller, much closer hospital.
Saratoga Hospital, a 171-bed hospital with more than 450 physicians and health care providers, primarily serves Saratoga and surrounding counties. Glens Falls Hospital, a 410-bed hospital with 2,600 employees, serves a six-county region in the southern Adirondacks.
Leaders at both hospitals say they’re not yet sure where they will find opportunities for collaboration, as the process is just beginning, but they pointed to research as an example of a collaboration opportunity.
“Glens Falls Hospital has a superb cancer program,” said Saratoga Hospital President and CEO Angelo Calbone, “and while we have been continually growing and developing what we think is a wonderful cancer program, there are certain things that may not be practical for us to recreate on our own, like research. There has to be a way to take advantage of these advances together.”
In late 2006, a regional committee of the statewide Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century issued a final report recommending, among other things, that Saratoga and Glens Falls hospitals should better work together to coordinate “lines of service” and reduce redundancy in the future.
“Both hospitals are needed as both provide care in a large geographic service area,” the report said. “Over the past decade, efforts have been made to coordinate lines of service between the two acute hospitals with little or no success.”
The lack of cooperation and coordination between the two hospitals not only served the community poorly, the report concluded, but it also added unnecessary costs to the regional health care system.
The 2006 report had nothing to do with the recent conversation between Saratoga and Glens Falls hospitals, Calbone said, but he added it was predictive of the collaborative direction the industry would soon take.
“Collaboration was beginning to make sense for a lot of providers,” he said. “The conversations we’ve had have roots going back about a year where we were just beginning to talk about our future and our relative places in the region. And frankly, we asked each other the open-ended question: Is there something we could and should do together to strengthen our organizations in ways we can’t separately?”
Shugrue said the financial difficulties of 2013 had nothing to do with the board’s decision to explore collaboration now.
“Now that it’s looking like a good year for Glens Falls Hospital and it’s nice to not be so internally focused on a financial turnaround plan, we are able to focus on these discussions now,” she said. “We didn’t want to enter them from a position of financial weakness.”
The exploration process will involve administrators, physicians and community stakeholders from both hospitals and will continue throughout the year. Both Calbone and Shugrue were reluctant to put a timeline on the process, which they said should take as long as it needs for the hospitals to develop a common vision.