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Valley Regional Hospital says Dartmouth affiliation will help it stay viable, expand care

Mt. Ascutney Hospital CEO Dr. Joseph Perras speaks at a forum Thursday in Claremont about Valley Regional Hospital’s proposed affiliation with Dartmouth Health. Credit: Paul Cuno-Booth
Paul Cuno-Booth
Mt. Ascutney Hospital CEO Dr. Joseph Perras speaks at a forum Thursday in Claremont about Valley Regional Hospital’s proposed affiliation with Dartmouth Health. Credit: Paul Cuno-Booth

Valley Regional Hospital plans to affiliate with the Dartmouth Health system next year, a move leaders of both institutions say will help the Claremont hospital remain financially viable.

At a forum Thursday evening in Claremont, Valley Regional Hospital’s Interim President and CEO Dr. Jocelyn Caple said the facility is doing OK now. But she worries about its long-term outlook.

“Over time, I believe that our financial situation would erode, to the point that we could be one of those hospitals in distress,” she said. “We currently are not. And as I said, I applaud the board for taking action now to ensure that we won’t become one of those.”

She said access to a larger health system’s resources could also help expand services and treat more patients locally, rather than having to refer them to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon for more advanced care.

Over the past decade, Dartmouth Health has brought several smaller hospitals in western New Hampshire and Vermont into its system, including Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, New London Hospital, Cheshire Medical Center in Keene and Mt. Ascutney Hospital in Windsor, Vt.

If approved, the Valley Regional affiliation would add another hospital to the Dartmouth system in that part of the state. Hospital officials said Valley Regional Hospital would retain its own board of trustees and share a CEO with Mt. Ascutney, which is about 20 minutes away.

The organizations say they’re finalizing the details before presenting their plan to state regulators. If things move forward as planned, the affiliation could become final in spring or summer 2023, officials said.

Earlier this year, Dartmouth and GraniteOne Health, which includes Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, dropped plans for a merger after the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office objected. Attorney General John Formella cited concerns that two of the state’s largest health systems combining would reduce competition in the sector.

Nationally, more than 100 rural hospitalsclosed between January 2013 and February 2020, forcing patients to travel much farther for routine care, according to a recent federal report. Dartmouth Health CEO Joanne Conroy said Thursday that as a health system in a rural area, it sees it as part of its mission to help small hospitals stay open.

“If every single small, rural hospital had to start decreasing their services and or closing their doors, we could not accommodate the care of all of those patients at one academic medical center in Lebanon,” she said.

Claremont resident Bernie Folta was born at Valley Regional and attended this week’s public forum on the proposed affiliation with Dartmouth Health. He sees the change as a chance to strengthen the local health care provider and keep it in the community.

“I think one of the fears of people in Claremont are, ‘Is, you know, is our hospital, our local hospital, gonna close,’” he said. “So this is an opportunity.”

Copyright 2022 New Hampshire Public Radio. To see more, visit New Hampshire Public Radio.

Paul Cuno-Booth
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