Schenectady group raises alarm about St. Peter’s taking management control of Ellis

Ellis Hospital is shown in this Gazette file photo.

Ellis Hospital is shown in this Gazette file photo.

SCHENECTADY — A community organization that has been raising the alarm this year about a planned hospital merger on Tuesday decried a new agreement that will give St. Peter’s Health Partners extensive management control over Ellis Medicine.

Ellis and St. Peter’s on Monday announced state approval of the Management Services Agreement. They say it is an important step toward improved quality of care and better financial performance by Ellis, both of which are preconditions to the merger process being formally started.

The Schenectady Coalition for Healthcare Access decried the management agreement as a step to a de facto merger, one that could weaken and alter Ellis’ organizational infrastructure to the point that it is unable to continue as an independent entity after the agreement’s two-year lifespan.

Organizers also remain concerned about abortion, contraception, sterilization and other medical services that SPHP — part of a Catholic Health system — is not allowed to provide due to religious directives.

The management agreement describes a firewall between SPHP and Ellis that will allow Ellis to continue health care procedures that are forbidden at SPHP. In a conference call with reporters Monday, the CEOs of Ellis and SPHP stated flatly that abortion will continue at Ellis under the agreement and until a merger is complete.

That’s not good enough, said Michelle Ostrelich, a founding member of the coalition — there’s still extensive potential overlap, she said.

Even if doctors and nurses employed by SPHP aren’t involved in actual abortions, SPHP will need to be involved in billing patients and insurers for abortion services, or purchasing supplies for procedures, or stocking medications, or making referrals, or in other ways that may not even be known at this point, Ostrelich said. The management agreement does not include that level of detail, she said, and does not lay out a framework for resolving such conflicts.

“It is the crux of what we’re concerned about,” she said. “I know it seems like it’s lost in the weeds, but it’s actually the weeds that affect the big picture.

“It’s not a hypothetical … that’s exactly how we lose contraceptive care across the country.”

Other objections about the agreement:

  • There is no indication how much it will cost Ellis.
  • It nearly precludes Ellis from considering a merger partner other than SPHP.
  • There is no binding commitment for Ellis to maintain services banned by the religious directives.

Ostrelich is distressed by the steady and quiet progress toward merger that she says is happening with limited state oversight and public input, and could deprive Schenectady residents of local health care options.

A merger would require a certificate of need, approval of which would potentially entail a lengthy and involved state review.

The Management Services Agreement approved in late November did not require a certificate of need, and state approval was a less-involved process.

The Provider Transition Agreement announced in early November — which makes 170 Ellis advanced care providers SPHP employees — did not even entail state review, she said.

Ostrelich submitted a detailed list of concerns to the state Department of Health as it was considering the Ellis-SPHP management agreement. Doing this accomplished nothing, as best she can tell.

“I’m personally very disappointed that the DOH in particular didn’t take this opportunity to address some very legitimate concerns,” she said.

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