CMH pursues pact with Albany Med

HUDSON–Columbia Memorial Hospital announced this week that it is discussing what the hospital calls an “affiliation” with Albany Medical Center. Both organizations said an agreement between them, which is still more than six months in the future, would not be a merger and that Columbia Memorial and Albany Medical Center would remain separate entities, each with its own board of directors and corporate identities intact.

A release issued by both hospitals midday Tuesday, July 8, said the two institutions have “begun a process designed to lead to better coordination of care for residents of Columbia and Greene counties and greater operational efficiency for both organizations.”

In a telephone conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Jay P. Cahalan, president and CEO of Columbia Memorial, said he did not anticipate job losses as a result of an agreement between the two hospitals. “It’s not about staffing,” he said.

Mr. Cahalan and Steven Frisch, MD, executive vice president of Albany Medical Center (AMC), who was also on the phone call, said the two hospitals were already engaged in cooperative programs and an affiliation would lead to better coordination of care for residents of Columbia and Greene counties.

Dr. Frisch said one goal of both hospitals was to avoid duplication of services in this region. He said no services currently offered by CMH would be cut as a result of an affiliation.

The new arrangement was described variously as a “strategic affiliation” and a “sponsorship affiliation” as well as a collaboration, but the two hospital officials did not provide details the how the affiliation would be organized and run.

The hospitals expect that any agreement between CMH and AMC would be subject to review by the state Department of Health.
The CMH Foundation, the fundraising arm of the hospital, would maintain its present status, according to the release.

Dr. Frisch said AMC already provides tertiary care–the highest level of medical care–to patients from a 28-county area, including Columbia and Greene counties. The agreement would emphasize the strengths of CMH, which he said include primary care and outreach to the local population. But he said CMH would also continue to provide clinical care.

One of the strengths of an affiliation, he said, involves the question: How does somebody enter the local healthcare system? And the real question, said Dr. Frisch, comes down to: “Is it easier to use and navigate than it is now?”

Even though the affiliation agreement is not a sale or a merger, Mr. Cahalan said both sides would have to conduct “due diligence” reviews of their operations and the impacts an affiliation might have on them and the communities they serve. That work would also identify regulatory issues raised by the affiliation agreement. The due diligence process will likely take months.

The press release from the hospitals said that CMH does not need the financial support of another hospital and that it presently operates “at a net positive margin.”

Dr. Frisch described AMC’s financial position as “very strong,” and noted that the hospital is currently undertaking a major expansion.

CMH describes itself as an advanced multi-specialty health care system serving more than 100,000 residents in Columbia and Greene counties at 26 primary and specialty care centers. The hospital in Hudson has 192 beds. CMH also operates Kaaterskill Care, a 120-bed long-term care facility in Catskill.

Columbia Memorial, a non-profit organization, is the largest private employer in the county.

Albany Medical Center includes the 734-bed Albany Medical Center Hospital, Albany Medical College, a biomedical research enterprise and the region’s largest physicians practice, with more than 400 doctors at over than 20 locations. It does not own or operate any long-term care facilities, Dr. Frisch said.

In response to questions about how long the discussions between the two hospitals have been going on, Mr. Cahalan said the CMH board spent “six or seven months considering options” and an equal amount of time after that talking with AMC.

Dr. Frisch said he had broached the subject of some sort of cooperation between the hospitals with former CMH President and CEO Jane Ehrlich several years ago.

The impetus behind the current concept, both men said, involves changes in healthcare payments.
The hospitals have more about the proposed affiliation on their websites, www.columbiamemorial.com and www.amc.edu.

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