Dartmouth-Hitchcock proposes merger with Manchester-based health system

  • Joanne Conroy, CEO and president of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, and Joseph Pepe, CEO of GraniteOne Health. Courtesy D-H

Valley News
Published: 1/24/2019 1:34:33 PM

Two of New Hampshire’s largest hospitals, including Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, will become part of one health system if a merger announced Thursday goes through.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health intends to combine forces with GraniteOne Health, the health care system that includes the Manchester-based Catholic Medical Center, according to a letter of intent the two have signed. The proposal would give Lebanon-based Dartmouth a far stronger presence in New Hampshire’s southern tier, where it already operates clinics and has sought to merge before.

Together, the systems would become Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health GraniteOne. The combination would include the five hospitals under Dartmouth-Hitchcock – including the state’s largest private employer and sole academic medical center – and the three GraniteOne hospitals: CMC, Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro and Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough.

“What we can do together is so much more than what we can do separately,” GraniteOne CEO Joseph Pepe said in a phone interview today.

The merger – which officials expect will not result in job cuts, but will help them to increase staffing in response to the growing health care needs of the region’s aging population – builds on clinical collaborations D-H and CMC already have in place, including in obstetrics, pre- and post-natal care, oncology, rheumatology, endocrinology and critical care.

“To channel Beyonce ... it’s time to put a ring on it,” Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO Joanne Conroy said in the same phone call.

Under the merger – though D-H officials said they prefer the word “combination” – the various hospitals would continue to operate under their own board of trustees. Conroy, who said she will be spending more time in the Manchester area, would be the CEO and in charge of one region, while Pepe would run the other region in the combined health system. The proposal must still be approved by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, federal regulators, the organizations’ boards and the Bishop of Manchester.

This would not be the first time D-H, which operates the 396-bed Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, and the 330-bed Catholic Medical Center have attempted to combine forces. In 2010, then-New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney objected to a merger plan that he likened to a takeover of CMC by D-H. Anti-abortion activists also opposed that plan on the grounds that merging with a secular hospital could prevent the Catholic hospital from carrying out its charitable mission.

But, in the news release Thursday announcing they have signed a letter of intent, the two systems sought to assure the public that “Catholic Medical Center ... will continue to adhere to its Catholic model of care while D-H will continue to serve its patients as it does today in all its existing health care facilities. All organizations within the combined system would also keep their current names, identities, and local leadership.”

D-H services that provide contraception, fertility treatment and sterilization will not be affected by the merger, Conroy said.

Under the agreement, the Bishop of Manchester will retain his leadership role at CMC and CMC will continue to abide by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Pepe said.

This announcement comes following last year’s formation of SolutionHealth by Elliot Health System, which includes the 296-bed Elliot Hospital in Manchester, and Southern New Hampshire Health System, which includes the 188-bed Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua.

D-H had in 2016 sought a formal affiliation with Elliot Health System, but ended those talks in early 2017.

Conroy has previously said that D-H needs to care for more people in order to level out financial risks. Such collaborations aim to help health systems find cost savings as they shift from a fee-for-service model of care to one which pays health care providers a flat per-patient fee for keeping them healthy.

Pepe said the two organizations hope to wrap up their internal due diligence by June and then complete the regulatory review by mid-2020.

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