SCHENECTADY — Ellis Medicine and St. Peter’s Health Partners announced Wednesday that 170 advanced care providers at Ellis will be placed under management of SPHP.
The move is a relatively small step toward the merger or affiliation the two medical organizations hope to complete but are holding off on until Ellis improves its financial standing.
The CEOs of Ellis and SPHP said Wednesday the Provider Transition Agreement would not involve any loss of services at Ellis. This has been a key concern of some in the Schenectady community because SPHP is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, and it is governed by religious doctrine that prohibits procedures such as abortion and sterilization and involves limitations on things such as birth control.
Ellis would be absorbed into SPHP under the merger that is envisioned, and has said it would be barred from performing abortions after a merger.
The people who perform these procedures are generally not Ellis employees but are in private practice, Ellis said, so in a situation short of merger, they would not be affected.
Ellis CEO Paul Milton and SPHP CEO Dr. James Reed had previously disclosed that the arrangement announced Monday was in the works. A much larger agreement, entailing extensive management control by SPHP over Ellis operations but still short of a merger, is awaiting state approval.
Michelle Ostrelich, an organizer of community efforts to scrutinize and publicize the merger negotiations out of concern over what the community might miss, said Monday’s announcement was not a surprise but is a concern because it’s one more step toward a de facto merger — a scenario with many aspects of a merger but none of the pubic input or scrutiny that would accompany an actual merger, and without some of the regulatory oversight.
“This is not a surprise, this is something Paul Milton has spoken of,” Ostrelich said. “It changes things inasmuch as each step makes the concern more urgent. The input of the public becomes harder to unwind the farther they get into it.”
Asked about this, Milton said Ellis needs to be part of the much-larger SPHP because it is financially struggling and has difficulty recruiting and retaining key staff such as physicians because it is a smaller organization in an industry that has seen many mergers.
The agreement announced Monday is a creative solution to this problem, Reed said. SPHP is successful not only in providing care but in recruiting caregivers, he said, and that’s what Ellis needs now.
The 170 Ellis advanced practice providers covered under the agreement — physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners — will become employees of SPHP Medical Associates but remain at the seven locations where they currently are in practice for Ellis.
Addressing the religious restrictions, Reed said SPHP won’t involve itself in procedures forbidden by Catholic doctrine until a merger, so they’re not an issue at Ellis at this point.