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St. Peter’s-Ellis Hospital Merger Raises Questions About Equity

An online forum held on the proposed merger of major Capital Region hospital networks St. Peter’s Health Partners and Ellis Medicine raised concerns about equity in health care.

On the session hosted by the Schenectady Coalition For Healthcare Access, participants talked about patient care and how the merger, announced in October, might impact the community. St. Peter's is part of Trinity Healthcare, one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the nation.

Some participants, including reproductive rights advocates, worry the merger would compromise health care choices, especially for Black, brown and LGTBQ residents who may not be able to afford to travel outside their city or community for referral care. Glen Northern is with Catholics for Choice, a nonprofit organization that favors reproductive freedom.

"When Catholic hospitals refuse to provide important health care services that are needed by the community, despite receiving taxpayer dollars, they fail to serve the common good. Moreover, in a pluralistic society, taxpayers’ choices about the care they receive should not be prescribed by religion, over individual medical needs or individual religious freedom. "

Community Catalyst is a Boston-based non-profit health care advocacy organization. Lois Uttley directs its Women's Health Program and sees the proposed merger as the latest example of ongoing consolidation in the health care industry that began in earnest about 20 years ago.

"Nationwide, 80% of all community hospitals are now part of a system and for Catholic hospitals it's even higher at 98%. So in the Capital District, we've seen Albany Medical Center, right, take control of Saratoga hospital, Columbia Memorial Hospital and Glens Falls hospital. Well, St. Peter's Health Partners now controls Memorial Hospital in Albany, and two hospitals in Troy, Samaritan, and the former St. Mary's. And of course, Ellis Medicine is itself the product of a merger between Ellis Hospital, St. Claire's and Bellevue Women's Hospital. So I just want to underscore that if this transaction goes through, the Capital District will go from having three hospital systems to only two."

Uttley added that while becoming part of the health system can potentially help a struggling hospital, Ellis doesn't seem to be struggling, and there may be some alternative to a merger.

"Another consequence of these mergers often is that local control of community hospitals is diminished or lost. You know, increasingly, a group of large regional and national health systems is gaining control of most of the community hospitals in the whole country. My team found, for example, in 2018, that 10 large health systems had come to control 70% of all the acute care hospital beds in New York. And by the way, Trinity health was one of those."

The merger is far from being finalized, and likely more than a year away. St. Peter’s Health Partners and Ellis Medicine issued a joint statement which says in part they look forward to continuing to engage the community in dialogue and "We do want to emphasize for our community that the intent of this proposed partnership is to enhance the availability of high-quality health care services in the Capital Region. In the end, we are confident the community will see more and even better care as a result of this partnership."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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