Plan for Southern NH Hospitals to team up draws praise at public hearing

New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER — Executives and medical leaders promoting the affiliation of two southern New Hampshire hospitals said Thursday the need to expand mental health coverage played a major role in proposing this unique partnership.

About 150 people attended the second of two public hearings on the formation of SolutionHealth, which would join in a nonprofit combination Elliot Health System in Manchester and Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua.

During the one-hour hearing at the Derryfield Country Club, the plan received only positive testimony from elected leaders, social service program executives and community activists.

Ken Norton, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill said on Thursday there were 48 adults and one child needing mental health care who were being served in emergency rooms because hospitals did not have in-patient beds for them.

“This speaks to the need for a very strong, integrated health care looking at the whole person,” Norton said adding that suicide remains the one leading cause of death that is dramatically increasing in the state.

Dr. Greg Baxter, chief medical officer at the Elliot Health System, called it the “challenge of our time.”

“We have scarce resources there but we are two institutions and this collaboration should help us,” Baxter said. “At the Elliot, we see 400 to 500 patients in crisis. We are challenged by that volume. With that system we have exhausted our ability to do it.”

Mike Rose, president and CEO of Southern New Hampshire Health, said an increased demand for services in the coming years also drove this proposed partnership.

“There is a dramatic demographic trend. We have the third largest proportion of Baby Boomers in our state of any state in the nation,” Rose said. “We are going to see an increased prevalence of heart disease, COPD, diabetes.”

The two health systems, which both trace their roots back to the 1890s, announced in late June they had signed a letter of intent to explore combining to form a regional health care system, while retaining their own names, identities and local governance structures.

Elliot Health System includes the 296-bed Elliot Hospital in Manchester. SNHH includes the 188-bed Southern New Hampshire Medical Center on two campuses in Nashua. Elliot’s system handles about 400,000 outpatient visits a year, while Southern New Hampshire is closer to 500,000 outpatient visits. Hospital admissions were close to 13,000 a year at Elliot and around 10,300 at Southern New Hampshire. Elliot employs about 4,000 people, SNHH about 2,000.

Elliot CEO Doug Dean said the need to recruit and fill vacant jobs was also a driving force behind this. Combining forces should lead to an increase in jobs at both hospitals.

“We are at virtual full employment in this state and this affects every single department from neurosurgery to dieticians,” Dean said.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig said in a statement that this approach is the future of health care.

“Our community is stronger when we work together to solve our goals and that is exactly what SolutionHealth proposes to do,” Craig said.

Posted: 1/19/2018 by The Union Leader