Schenectady

Proposed Ellis Medicine-St. Peter’s merger sparks concerns at rally

Attendees hold up signs during the Save our Services rally held by the Schenectady Coalition for Healthcare Access Sunday morning at Veteran’s Park.
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Attendees hold up signs during the Save our Services rally held by the Schenectady Coalition for Healthcare Access Sunday morning at Veteran’s Park.

Ellis Medicine’s proposed merger with St. Peter’s Health Partners of Albany is either an opportunity for the community to access resources and expertise of a multi-state health system, or “a profound concern” the hometown hospital will be reduced to a satellite, said the Rev. Dr. Amaury Tanon-Santos.

Tanon-Santos, executive director of Schenectady Inner City Ministry, a 50-year old collaboration of religious communities in greater Schenectady County, said residents of the city and county deserve to know what the future of their hometown hospital will be, because their health and dignity depend on it.

During a well-attended demonstration at Veterans Park titled “Save Our Services,”  Tanon-Santos joined a group of religious, community and elected leaders in calling on Ellis Medicine and Trinity Health, the Michigan-headquartered national corporation that owns SPHP, to engage with the community during the merger process.

Emma Anderson, a recent Niskayuna High School graduate who volunteers in Ellis Medicine’s Bellevue Woman’s Center’s neonatal ICU, expressed concern about the loss of reproductive health services under a planned merger with a Catholic hospital system.

Anderson said her volunteer work the past two years afforded her opportunities to understand the importance of comprehensive reproductive care at a young age.

Anderson, 17, said she watched a number of C-sections, and she said it was not uncommon for doctors to perform a tubal ligation or other forms of sterilization during the operation.

These are all voluntary, safe, and often very important procedures,” she said. “To jeopardize the accessibility of such critical reproductive care is to no longer serve the community’s most vulnerable, and such discriminatory practices have no role in our community.”

As someone who hopes to pursue a medical career, Anderson said she “cannot imagine working in a community that does not provide universal comprehensive care to all those who seek it.”

Ellis Medicine and St. Peter’s Health Partners are pursuing shared services and other partnerships but their planned merger is on hold for now, The Daily Gazette reported late last week.

Ellis President and CEO Paul Milton said Thursday he hopes and believes the merger will be completed, perhaps in 2023, but Ellis will be collaborating with SPHP in the interim as the Schenectady-based organization tries to recover from the crippling financial impact of the COVID pandemic.

During the downtown rally, Michelle Ostrelich a county legislator and head of the legislature’s Health and Human Service Committee, questioned the CEO’s timeline.

Ostrelich said the merger is in fact already happening through the cooperation plan.

“Ellis doctors will soon become St. Peter’s doctors, but working at Ellis. They’re going to become St Peter’s employees,” said Ostrelich, noting that talks of shared service agreements usually mean a merging is all but set.

Adding to the challenge, the state encourages mergers, “so by the time Ellis files with the Department of Health, the state will look and say, ‘Oh, you already have so much in common. Of course you can merge,’ ” Ostrelich said.

State Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, said the speakers’ concerns were appropriate, given the “very bad experience” a decade ago, when the diocese used a religious exemption to abandon a pension plan to which St. Clare’s hospital workers contributed. 

Policy-based exclusions of care and ways that some of those services will be lost as a result of the merger, particularly for queer and transgender people wanting reproductive care, are points of concern for Rev. Sara Baron, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Schenectady and a former board member of Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson.

Baron, an advocate for the LGBTQIA community, said she gave birth in May at Bellevue Hospital after arriving five weeks earlier than expected. She said she left with a healthy baby, and credited her doctors, nurses and midwives during a time that wasn’t ideal for giving birth because of the pandemic.

Baron said the facility respected her decision to permanently prevent another pregnancy.

Dr. Jessica Berman, a local family practice physician, said she’s troubled that in 2021 she has to protest to maintain women’s choices about contraception, abortion and family planning, along with transgender issues and end-of-life care.

As a resident at Albany Medical Center Hospital and at SPHP, she found that if a patient at Ellis Medicine wanted to have a tubal ligation after a C-section, she would have to travel about 30 minutes to get to the Albany facility, insurmountable for much of Schenectady’s population, Berman said.

Berman, a community preceptor at Ellis’ family practice residency program, said she’s equally troubled that some health care providers are still forced to be dishonest and deceitful about the care their patients need.

Providers have to find ways to get around restrictions that are in place, such as having to say a patient needs contraception to manage menstrual cramps, she said.

“It’s time to be honest and transparent about what patients need and the reasons for what they need.”

Rev. Nicolle Harris said she understands healthcare institutions have to make difficult business decisions.

But for the sake of transparency, and community inclusion, merger talks need to include feedback out of church basements, community shelters, street corners, and NAACP and Schenectady Inner City Mission meetings, said Harris, the pastor at Duryee Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church and president of the Schenectady branch NAACP.

Harris said she was speaking out about the proposed merger because she couldn’t ignore disparities in mortality rates that affect pregnant women of color, among other concerns.

Harris said she fears merger talks are taking place in an impersonal way, perhaps via Zoom, or in a small meeting room made up of people in suits.

“There’s no guarantee that somebody is behind that door that represents me,” Harris said. “And no offense to anybody who wears nice suits here today – but I don’t need anybody in a nice suit and tie making decisions for me.”

The nearly 90-minute rally was sponsored by the Schenectady Coalition for Healthcare Access.

Many of the speakers punctuated their remarks with the tag line, “Silence, takes away choices. Ellis, hear our voices.”

 

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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