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Alliance Set For D-H and Mt. Ascutney

Windsor — A formal affiliation between Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center and Dartmouth-Hitchcock has been finalized, the two organizations announced in a statement issued Thursday.

The new relationship will begin July 1 and offer opportunities to share resources and to improve communication and collaboration between the two organizations, hospital officials said.

The affiliation is more about clinical collaboration and working together,” said Kevin Donovan, chief executive officer of Mt. Ascutney, in a phone interview on Thursday. “It’s not about the elimination of jobs to save money.”

Donovan said there would be no layoffs or staff reductions relating to the partnership, though Mt. Ascutney might not replace some retiring specialists in the future. But patients aren’t expected to lose access to those specialties. Instead, at least in certain areas, Mt. Ascutney will rely on part-time clinicians from Dartmouth-Hitchcock, he said.

By way of example, Donovan said, a Mt. Ascutney urologist retired within the past six months and now Dartmouth-Hitchcock will send a urologist to the Windsor hospital on a part-time basis.

“We’re always looking for ways to create economies of scale,” said Donovan.

He said the new agreement allows Mt. Ascutney to continue to be a “pertinent, important member of the health care landscape.”

For example, the recently formalized relationship will allow Mt. Ascutney to accept patients covered under insurance purchased through New Hampshire’s version of the heath insurance exchanges that were created to fulfill requirements of the federal 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Donvan said Mt. Ascutney is currently excluded from the New Hampshire network of providers covered by insurance plans purchased under New Hampshire’s exchange, meaning some patients living just across the Connecticut River from the Windsor hospital have not been able to access health care there.

“We’ve seen people who historically come to our providers not able to do so this year,” said Donovan. “We’re going to work on that in the future.”

Donovan described a long history of partnership between Mt. Ascutney and Dartmouth-Hitchcock, including through the New England Alliance for Health, a collaborative composed of community hospitals, behavior health centers and home health care agencies.

Existing relationships between the two organizations have Mt. Ascutney providing sub-acute and inpatient acute rehabilitation services to patients discharged from Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Dartmouth-Hitchcock providing specialty services, such as orthopedics and general surgery, to Mt. Ascutney patients.

“Our collaboration will make an already great relationship between Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Mt. Ascutney even stronger,” said Dr. James Weinstein, CEO and president of Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Thursday’s release. “This affiliation with Mt. Ascutney will advance that vision and allow our two organizations to partner together to deliver the very best, most appropriate care to our patients, while sharing resources and best practices to lower costs and improve care.”

The final agreement, approved by the hospitals’ boards and presented to Vermont’s Green Mountain Care Board earlier this month following a six-month regulatory and due diligence process, is not a merger.

Under the agreement, Mt. Ascutney will maintain its own board of trustees and remain an independent nonprofit community hospital. The hospital will continue to operate the Ottauquechee Health Center in Woodstock.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock entered into a similar agreement with New London Hospital last fall and is in talks about affiliating with Cheshire Medical Center in Keene and Alice Peck Day in Lebanon. When seen together, the affiliations are intended to create a regional health care network in which legally independent hospitals collaborate in a variety of areas including clinical care, accounting and legal services.

On the surface at least, Donovan said staff and patients should expect few changes at Mt. Ascutney, particularly in the near term. The “quality will continue to be high,” he said, and the hospital will look and feel much the same on July 1 as June 30.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.