NH hospitals join forces to cut costs

Four rural hospitals in New Hampshire have joined forces to try and reduce costs while increasing efficiency, New Hampshire Public Radio reports.

Officials with Androscoggin Valley Hospital, Weeks Memorial Hospital, Littleton Regional Healthcare and Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital say they are fighting battles along several financial fronts, including increasing costs and reduced reimbursements from the Medicaid program. 

"We are regulatorily prohibited from working closely together under our current independent structures. Forming a common parent organization, governed by an independent board, would give us the ability to do this," the nonbinding letter of intent among the organizations states, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.

The hospitals have created a non-profit parent organization that will create initiatives focused on cutting costs while improving the quality of the care delivered, as part of a semi-integrated network. The hospitals, including their charitable organizations. will all remain independent entities.

The four hospitals face a perilous challenge: they operate in one of New Hampshire's poorest regions, where the population is aging rapidly, according to the Berlin Daily Sun. Moreover, New Hampshire only moved to expand its Medicaid program as part of the Affordable Care Act last March, and it is far from a sure thing. The expansion is part of a pilot project that will pay private insurers to provide coverage to 50,000 lower-income state residents. It is slated to run for only 30 months, at which point lawmakers will decide whether to extend the expansion.

The lot of the four facilities is similar to many other rural hospitals in the U.S., which face a dwindling census and potential payment cuts. According to the National Rural Health Association, 14 rural hospitals have shut down over the past year. Many were the biggest employers for the regions they served.

As a result of the financial pressures, more joint ventures such as the one in New Hampshire crop up. A hospital in rural Iowa recently announced a collaboration with an area surgeon to bring more specialty patients to the facility.

The new venture still requires review and approval from the New Hampshire attorney general's office. If approved, it will begin operation by the first quarter of 2015.

To learn more:
- read the New Hampshire Public Radio article
- here's the Berlin Daily Sun article