SCHENECTADY — Unhappy about the lack of updates on negotiations for a potential merger of Ellis Medicine and worried about the cuts that may result, community activists are planning a protest rally.
The Schenectady Coalition for Healthcare Access said Monday it will hold the rally at 12:30 p.m. in Veterans Park centered on the theme “Don’t Take Away Our Services.”
In October, Ellis Medicine and St. Peter’s Health Partners announced a proposal for St. Peter’s to absorb Ellis but said months of discussions and multiple layers of regulatory approval were necessary before any such action could happen.
Leaders of the two entities have at various times called it a potential merger, affiliation or partnership. They have not offered details on what impact it would have on Ellis Hospital, the only full-service hospital in the county, or on Bellevue Woman’s Center, which currently provides services that might violate the religious directives followed by the Catholic-affiliated St. Peter’s and its parent company, Trinity Health.
County Legislator Michelle Ostrelich, chaiwomanr of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said the lack of information is problematic as the negotiations continue.
“Among the most troubling components of this merger is the accelerated timeline,” she said in a news release. “When we held our first public forum in March, we were told that official plans would not materialize for at least one year — enabling time for the community’s concerns to be studied and addressed. Now we are hearing that agreements are being finalized.”
Ellis Medicine replied in a prepared statement:
“Discussions between Ellis Medicine and St. Peter’s Health Partners on a joint affiliation agreement are continuing and we look forward to providing our community with an update as soon as we have something meaningful to report. We also understand the importance of these affiliation discussions to everyone who relies on Ellis Medicine for care and we are committed to keeping everyone updated as we move along.”
Later Monday, Ostrelich told The Gazette she’s getting limited information from Ellis Medicine and its president and CEO, Paul Milton.
She said Milton has alluded to forthcoming cuts in conversations with her but without details.
A key point of concern is whether services Ellis Medicine now provides might be constrained or eliminated in a post-merger environment, either to save money or to comply with doctrine.
As its name suggests, the Coalition for Healthcare Access seeks to ensure equitable access for all, including among others women, the terminally ill, and the LGBTQ community.
“A healthcare system that provides a limited range of services and/or selectively determines eligibility for services — based on discriminatory practices rather than sound medical advice — is not an equitable public health care provider,” said Arthur Butler, executive director of the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission.
“Patients nearing the end of life, seeking compassionate care — such as voluntarily stopping eating and drinking, palliative sedation, withdrawal of care — may no longer have access to these options,” says Kim Callinan, president and CEO of Compassion & Choices.
The Rev. Sara Baron of First Schenectady United Methodist Church said: “Will women be able to continue receiving the full range of reproductive care they currently receive at Bellevue? Will the LGBTQIA+ community be welcomed and affirmed in the Trinity system? Will end-of-life decisions be made for us, instead of by us? These questions have been asked, over and over again — but they’ve fallen on deaf ears.”
The Schenectady Coalition for Healthcare Access in its news release acknowledged the fundamental challenges that face the long-term viability of independent community hospital operators. And Ostrelich said the scenarios being described are potential results of a St. Peter’s-Ellis merger, not certain outcomes.
But that’s the problem the coalition is trying to highlight: there’s no public indication where the discussions are going.
“There are clear risks and benefits to this or any merger,” Ostrelich said. “What’s so disconcerting here is that no one has shared information with our community about partnership options. We were simply told that Ellis would merge with SPHP/Trinity. We hear sound bites about the benefits of this merger. But we never see anyone trying to mitigate the very real risks that will accompany it.”