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Friday, June 20, 2014

More sharing of specialty services between St. Joseph, Lahey hospitals

NASHUA – Operating on people’s lungs is not something most surgeons are trained to do, including those at St. Joseph Hospital.

“To build a thoracic program, I’d have to go out and hire at least two thoracic surgeons, which wouldn’t make sense with the current economic situation,” said Dr. Rich Boehler, president and CEO of St. Joseph Healthcare. ...

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NASHUA – Operating on people’s lungs is not something most surgeons are trained to do, including those at St. Joseph Hospital.

“To build a thoracic program, I’d have to go out and hire at least two thoracic surgeons, which wouldn’t make sense with the current economic situation,” said Dr. Rich Boehler, president and CEO of St. Joseph Healthcare.

So the hospital has increased its partnership with Lahey Hospital & Medical Center of Burlington, Mass., that will allow specialty work to be done in the Nashua hospital. And not just thoracic, or chest, surgery.

“We don’t have a gynecological oncologist. There are very few in the country, and in order to support a program, you need more than one. A community hospital doesn’t have the volume of activity that would justify it,” said Boehler.

Those two specialities are the most obvious, but not the last, therapies to be involved in the new agreement between St. Joseph’s and Lahey.

“We just signed the memorandum of understanding – that’s in force – and are working through the details of which services make the most sense,” said Boehler.

The expanded collaboration has financial benefits to St. Joseph Hospital, keeping some services in house that would otherwise take place elsewhere, making billable use of existing operating rooms and anesthesiology and nursing staff. It also expands locally available health care options, helpful to patients who are less likely to be moved south.

It’s an example of integration between hospitals and medical groups that seek to join forces even as they compete for business – sometimes called “co-opetition” in the business world.

Pressure to lower medical costs, spurred by the Affordable Care Act, has only increased the need for such sharing, while technology, notably the increase in electronic medical records, has made them more feasible.

Sharing of services has long been part of the medical world. The Radiation Center of Greater Nashua on Southwood Drive, for example, was created by Nashua’s two hospitals and Dartmouth-Hitchcock two decades ago to provide radiation therapies too expensive to create separately. More recently, the three institutions joined together to open the Surgery Center in the former Lamprey Health Care facility alongside Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, which specializes in surgeries that don’t require an overnight stay.

All hospitals, including St. Joseph, have long had various types of service-sharing arrangements with other hospitals or other medical practices. For example, city hospitals partner with Harbor Homes “to deliver mental health services that would be much more difficult for us to do independently,” said Boehler.

The expanded Lahey arrangement “is looking at gaps, where we don’t have types of service delivery models in place,” said Boehler. “We have no intention of changing any existing arrangements,” he said.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).