WHITEFIELD — With the window of opportunity to withdraw from the organization closed, North Country Healthcare is now permanent.

The 90-day window closed on July 1, and the permanent members are Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, Weeks Medical Center in Lancaster, Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook and North Country Home Health and Hospice Agency in Littleton.

North Country Healthcare now has more than 900 staff members, making it the largest employer in the North Country.

Littleton Regional Hospital had affiliated with the group but now is not a member of the organization, having announced earlier this year that it would withdraw from the affiliation.

Littleton and North Country Healthcare are engaged in a legal dispute over Littleton’s withdrawal, and the N.H. Attorney General’s office has intervened in the legal dispute.

“Individually and collectively, we are focused on our patients and communities,” said Jim Hamblin, chair of the North Country Healthcare Board of Trustees. “We are stronger together, and the initial results of our affiliation are very encouraging, allowing us to provide outstanding health care to the whole region.”

The four hospitals negotiated the partnership in 2015, vetted it publicly, and voted to affiliate to create a common parent organization.

Hamblin said the partnership has met of exceeded its goals.

The organization’s mission is to assure consistent, high quality, accessible and integrated health care across the communities served.

Making the announcement about North Country Healthcare's change of status on Friday, the organization's press release said, "With an aging population spread over the North Country, the affiliation was designed to save money, share resources and provide outstanding health care."

Under the now-permanent affiliation, each hospital will keep its own board of directors and its own administrative structure. All of the now-permanent members' boards voted unanimously in the past 30 days to codify the affiliation.

“There can be little question that each of the affiliates under the North Country umbrella has benefited from the partnership, in each location we have seen substantial improvements clinically, operationally and financially,” said Thomas Mee, CEO of North Country Healthcare. “Consolidation and collaboration represents the future of rural health care, and I believe we’ve created the model for sustainability going forward.”

To date, most of the integration has been largely administrative and human resource based — but North Country Healthcare reported that the health-care providers have found significant savings, which have strengthened the system and allowed them to make new investments. Savings have also come in joint purchasing, meeting current and long-term capital needs, attracting and retaining physicians and staff, increased clinical performance and a stronger position in negotiating rates with insurers.

The release also noted the hospitals have also saved a considerable amount with new electronic medical records systems and leveraging purchasing power.

North Country Healthcare leadership envisions that, once the electronic health record is implemented within the next 18 months, patient medical records originating from North Country Healthcare facilities and partners will reside on a single medical record platform. That record will help integrate services between different providers and make sure that all of a patient's medical records are available to each provider, every time a person sees a doctor, whether it be in a different medical office or different hospital within the system.

For more information, go to northcountryhealth.org.

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