BERLIN — While surprised and disappointed by Littleton Regional Healthcare’s announcement it intents to withdraw from North Country Healthcare systems, the remaining three hospitals and the regional home health agency said they will continue the affiliation.

Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, Weeks Medical Center in Lancaster, Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook and North Country Home Health and Hospice in Littleton said they are committed to NCH’s mission of providing high quality, accessible and integrated health care to its communities.

“Individually and collectively, we continue to be focused on the best interests of our patients and employees,” said Jim Hamblin, chair, NCH board of trustees. “Residents of and visitors to the North Country can rest assured that our priorities of providing outstanding health care and a supportive working environment remain unchanged,” he said in the release issued Friday.

The four hospitals voted to affiliate and create a common parent organization in 2015, after more than a year of study. Faced with a rapidly aging population in a region recognized as the poorest and sickest in the state, officials of the four hospitals said affiliating offered a way to maintain quality health care in a challenging environment for small rural hospitals.

Each hospital maintained its board of directors and control over its assets and charitable endowments. Each hospital also has its own president or administrator with North Country Healthcare employing a CEO and president/financial officer for the system. NCH employs 1,400 people and is the largest employer in the North Country. Of the four hospitals, Littleton Regional is the largest.

Under the affiliation agreement, Littleton Regional cannot formally file a notice of intent to withdraw until April 1. The agreement then calls for a four-month period for review of the withdrawal claim and negotiation on a final settlement and required payments to the remaining parties.

Hamblin said any concerns by Littleton Regional members will receive a very deliberative and very transparent hearing and evaluation. He said such a process is necessary because so many critical business and clinical systems of the five members have been integrated.

“The NCH affiliation agreement requires all parties to conduct a deliberate review of issues that may arise as the result of a withdrawal notice. We trust that all parties who may interact with any or all parts of the system during this review period will respect these important contractual obligations,” Hamblin said.

In the meantime, Hamblin said all North Country Healthcare patients will continue to receive excellent health care services at all four hospitals and home health agency.

“The preferred outcome would be for LRH to remain in the affiliation,” said Hamblin. “Since they will remain a full member of the affiliation until the required process and necessary payments are finalized, which will take months, positive communication and collaboration among all of the hospitals and teams will continue. Anything otherwise would be a disservice to the communities we serve.”

He said NCH and its member organizations have adopted a comprehensive strategic plan and listed some of their accomplishments. As of October 2018, Hamblin said the affiliation had achieved or was moving towards implementing:

• Standardized quality markers and reporting for all parties as well as standardized protocols, internal referral network plan, and operating practices.

• Centralized and standardized recruitment activities and retention practices for providers and staff, business office/revenue cycle services, laboratory services and pharmacy, radiology services and rehabilitation services, materials management Services, quality services, risk management and corporate compliance.

• An overarching marketing plan.

• Added a home health and hospice member.

• An information technology director of the system.

• A common payroll and common employee benefits, including a single health insurance plan.

• Standardized job titles, pay grades, shift differentials, and pay practices.

• A business analytics unit for the system.

“All of these accomplishments have helped enhance the experience of not only our patients, but also our employees,” Hamblin said. “They are clear examples of the progress and improvements achieved by the NCH Affiliation and indications of the opportunities for further improvements for organizations that share a common goal. It should also be noted that the individual and collective financial status of our institutions have steadily improved during the three years of affiliation. We now rank in the top tier of our peers,” he added.

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