ALBANY — St. Peter’s Health Partners and Ellis Medicine are seeking state approval of a management agreement that would put SPHP in charge of some aspects of Ellis operations.
The two organizations emphasized in a joint statement Friday that the agreement is not the merger they are pursuing; that Ellis would remain fully independent through the two-year term of the proposed management services agreement; and that the MSA is nonbinding.
The MSA does not require the DOH to issue a certificate of need to either party, and does not entail the public disclosures of information that a certificate of need generates.
In a memo to SPHP physicians and health care providers, SPHP CEO Dr. James Reed said the MSA would not include Bellevue Woman’s Center, and therefore would not affect the services provided there.
It’s a critical distinction, as abortions and some other reproductive care would be halted at Bellevue if Ellis and SPHP merged, because SPHP is part of a Catholic hospital system and constrained by religious doctrine to not provide or facilitate certain medical procedures.
A separate agreement being negotiated would place Ellis Medicine’s doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners under St. Peter’s management. It too would take effect in advance of any merger.
In October 2020, four years after starting discussions, Ellis and SPHP announced their plan for SPHP to absorb Ellis.
Last month, Ellis said the merger has been pushed back, perhaps to 2023, because SPHP wants Ellis to get its finances back on track after massive losses in 2020, due to COVID.
The MSA is a step on the path to that goal.
“The MSA allows us to start working together to improve performance and quality in several operational and patient quality areas throughout Ellis Medicine,” the two organizations said in their statement Friday.
Residents concerned about the potential reduction of healthcare services available locally formed the Schenectady Coalition for Healthcare Access earlier this year.
It held a public rally last month to bring attention to the issue, and has repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of updates and transparency as Schenectady County’s only general-service hospital works toward an increasingly deeper partnership.
Ellis CEO Paul Milton says he’s been open about the whole process, the coalition is adamant that he has not.
Organizer Michele Ostrelich said Friday that this MSA is just the latest example.
The coalition found out about the MSA only when an SPHP employee leaked Reed’s memo about it. Milton refused to provide Ostrelich with a copy of it, she said.
Ellis and SPHP, in their statement Friday, said they’d make details of the MSA public upon receiving state approval, as “we start to collaborate in a way that will change health care for the better in the Capital Region.”
This, Ostrelich said, is the very heart of the matter: Ellis and SPHP are creating a de facto merger behind closed doors and providing details only when they are finalized, leaving no chance for the community to raise concerns or just ask questions before it is in place.
Also, she said, with management agreements in effect for a year or more before a formal merger is submitted for state approval, Ellis and SPHP will be able to present a stronger case for merger.
Additionally, if the MSA calls for extensive takeover by SPHP, Ellis over time could well lose the people, skillsets and infrastructure it needs to perform the tasks itself, she said.
“There’s seemingly no place for public comment and questions,” Ostrelich said. “What’s in that document really matters.”
Whatever impact would come from the one bold public stroke — merger — also can be created gradually with a series of small incremental steps such as the MSA, she added — the latter course of action essentially negates the point and value of a formal state review of a merger.
If Ellis and SPHP merge, every public hospital in the eight-county Capital Region, home to more than 1 million people, would be part of SPHP or the Albany Medical Center system.
Ellis Medicine was formed from Ellis, St. Clare’s and Bellevue hospitals. SPHP is a combination of St. Peter’s, St. Mary’s, Albany Memorial, Sunnyview and Samaritan hospitals. The Albany Med network consists of Albany Medical Center, Saratoga, Glens Falls and Columbia Memorial hospitals.