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Some local opposition as St. Peter’s, Ellis Hospital near merger

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Dave Lucas / WAMC

Community resistance to the planned merger of Ellis Hospital and St. Peter's Health Partners continues. It comes as the entities received approval from the New York State Department of Health to collaborate under a management services agreement.

St. Peter's is part of Trinity Healthcare, one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the nation.

Paul Milton, president and CEO of Ellis Medicine, says the Management Services Agreement, filed in August, is a component of plans for the two organizations to work together on projects designed to preserve and expand the community’s access to health care, while also strengthening Ellis’ financial standing and quality metrics.

"We're taking a number of steps, which we hope will eventually get to a merger," said Milton. "A couple of the steps, one was a physician transition agreement, which was done to help Ellis recruit physicians, so we're taking our employee positions, and instead of moving them to St. Peter's and hiring them back. It's really helpful for those physicians coming out of residency and fellowships to join a large group of St. Peter's medical associates and be assigned or work here at Ellis, so it helps to retain and to recruit physicians, and then the Management Services Agreement is the second step. And that's a two year agreement focused on quality, and financials. So we want to take some of the expertise that within St. Peter's and Trinity, and blend that into to Ellis to improve our quality performance and our financial performance."

Ellis will remain independent from St. Peter’s throughout the two-year term of the agreement, with its Board of Trustees retaining local control.

Under the agreement, two Trinity executives will join the Ellis Senior Leadership Team. Ellis officials say the agreement does not commit either organization to the merger.

Reproductive rights advocates worry the merger, which has been in the works since October 2020, will compromise health care choices.

Schenectady Coalition for Healthcare Access founding member and County Legislator Michelle Ostrelich, a Democrat, chairs the legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

“It's frustrating that the Department of Health had an opportunity really to step in and place conditions on this Management Services Agreement, and they didn't," Ostrelich said. "And that means this is one step closer to the merger, without anything standing in its way. By the time the merger comes along. In two years, the two entities are going to be so intertwined, it will be impossible not to grant that certificate of need, and or unwind their relationship. So this really was the opportunity. And we're saddened that they didn't take it up.”

Saying critics and the public have "yet to receive anything in writing that protects access to care at Ellis for services that are prohibited by the Ethical and Religious Directives," Schenectady County Human Rights Commission Executive Director Arthur Butler contends Ellis is heading toward putting the working poor and those living below poverty level who use Ellis as a primary source of care at risk.

“Where were they going to go for care? What were they going to do if those services were being taken away? How were they going to travel to those places? How are they going to pay for services," Butler asked. "And to compound what they've already, the community is already experiencing by COVID, the impact of COVID, the impact of long standing poverty, and equity and those types of issues, really, how we were going to get through this. So that's been, my main concern is that access to care.”

The Management Services Agreement was filed in August by Ellis Medicine with the state Department of Health. Bellevue Woman’s Center, Ellis Medicine’s inpatient facility dedicated to the care of women and infants, is not part of the agreement and officials said it will continue to operate independently with no changes to its current services during the term of the agreement.

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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