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The Podium

The next move for independent hospitals

The recent announcement that North Adams Regional Hospital would be closing — the first hospital in Massachusetts in 11 years to do so — sent shockwaves through the local community. More broadly, it reminds us all that local hospitals are critical resources and community hospitals that fail to adapt to government health reforms may not survive.

What has worked for community hospitals in the past — taking independent actions to sustain the expertise, technology, equipment, and facilities to meet community health needs — will not work in the future. Under the Affordable Care Act and Massachusetts health care law, physicians and hospitals are being asked to take greater accountability for populations of people with complex physical, mental, and behavioral health conditions. No hospital can do this alone; that’s why health care providers across the Commonwealth are forming integrated health systems. Left to stand on our own, South Shore Hospital will be hard-pressed to meet future community needs.

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Integrated health systems are fundamental to the successful pursuit of the so-called “Triple Aim” of health care: better health for populations, better care for individuals, and lower costs. Integrated health systems are the infrastructure through which patients, physicians, community hospitals, academic medical centers and other health care providers can work together to deliver more affordable, accessible and effective care.

South Shore Hospital has taken early steps to deliver advanced care in our community through our clinical affiliations with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Boston Children’s Hospital. Our current relationships, however, have serious limitations, including an inability to efficiently share talent, patient information, best practices and clinical protocols, or provide opportunities for investment of financial capital and other resources.

Consumers, employers, insurers, and the government have made it absolutely clear that they want changes made in how health care is delivered and funded. The formation of integrated health systems is the logical response to those demands. On the South Shore, for example, most community hospitals are now part of systems. Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton and Quincy Medical Center are part of the Steward Health Care System. Jordan Hospital in Plymouth and Milton Hospital have joined Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

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If ever an organization has the potential to achieve the Triple Aim it is South Shore Hospital, as a member of Partners HealthCare. Our plans to make these improvements for our communities should be delayed no further. We disagree with entities like the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission about the implications of our approach. Arguing, as they do, that our merger will increase costs is short-sighted and based on yesterday’s reimbursement models. It is a backwards-looking perspective on a forward-looking challenge and it misses the point of what our becoming a member of Partners is all about.

Today’s integrated health systems are focused on reducing total medical expense by detecting illness early, limiting obesity, preventing heart disease, lowering risk of stroke, and – through population health management — helping people successfully manage their chronic illnesses. The best way to pursue these aims is by becoming part of a system of care that is rooted right here in our community, but connected to cutting-edge academic medical center expertise and technology. By joining Partners and tapping into its experience with population health management, the people of the South Shore will substantially benefit from improved local access to the care they need and deserve.

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Massachusetts has successfully led the nation in redesigning health care delivery, and is now focused on making sure health care is coordinated, accessible and affordable for everyone. Our plan to join Partners is a roadmap to, and an important part of achieving those goals.


Richard H. Aubut is president and chief executive officer of South Shore Health and Educational Corp.