El­lis Medicine to stay in­de­pen­dent

Albany Times Union - - CAPITAL REGION - By Bethany Bump

Af­ter a two-year re­view of its op­tions, El­lis Medicine’s board of trustees has de­cided the Sch­enec­tady hospi­tal and health sys­tem should re­main in­de­pen­dent.

The board an­nounced the news Thurs­day to great re­lief from the sys­tem’s more than 3,000 em­ploy­ees, who were un­cer­tain what a po­ten­tial merger, con­sol­i­da­tion or af­fil­i­a­tion with an­other en­tity might mean for their jobs, pa­tients and op­er­a­tions in gen­eral.

“We be­lieve that for the fore­see­able fu­ture, an in­de­pen­dent El­lis, with a sin­gle-minded fo­cus on our com­mu­nity, best serves our pa­tients,” said Mark Lit­tle, chair of the El­lis board of trustees.

That wasn’t al­ways the case. As the health care

in­dus­try has in­creas­ingly moved to­ward con­sol­i­da­tion on both a na­tional and re­gional scale, lead­ers at El­lis de­cided they needed to con­duct an in-depth re­view to de­ter­mine whether re­main­ing a lo­cally run, in­de­pen­dent health care provider was in the best in­ter­ests of the sys­tem and com­mu­nity.

The re­view be­gan shortly af­ter Paul Mil­ton took over as CEO from James Con­nolly in 2016, and was led by the board, physi­cian lead­ers and se­nior staff.

Dur­ing that time, the sys­tem so­licited, re­ceived and con­sid­ered af­fil­i­a­tion and merger pro­pos­als from both lo­cal and out-of-state health care or­ga­ni­za­tions. Mil­ton de­clined to name those be­hind the of­fers, cit­ing con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ments.

“We were open to out-of-state hos­pi­tals, in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and physi­cian groups,” he said. “We re­ceived re­sponses from in­side the lo­cal mar­ket and out­side. So it was very in­clu­sive.”

Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, the board de­cided that re­main­ing a smaller, lo­cal

In any kind of busi­ness there are some pros you get from be­ing big­ger . ... But there are also strengths to be­ing smaller. You’re more nim­ble, more cre­ative more in con­trol of your own des­tiny. Paul Mil­ton, El­lis Medicine CEO

and in­de­pen­dent op­er­a­tion would be in the com­mu­nity’s best in­ter­est, he said.

“We know it’s go­ing against the grain,” Mil­ton said. “In any kind of busi­ness, there are some pros you get from be­ing big­ger, whether you’re ne­go­ti­at­ing on rates or to buy sup­plies, you’re prob­a­bly a lit­tle bit stronger. But there are also strengths to be­ing smaller. You’re more nim­ble, more cre­ative, more in con­trol of your own des­tiny.”

At more than 3,000 em­ploy­ees and 438 beds, the Sch­enec­tady sys­tem is in­deed one of the re­gion’s smaller hospi­tal sys­tems.

It has four cam­puses, born from a merger more than a decade ago with St. Clare’s Hospi­tal on Mc­clel­lan Street and Belle­vue Woman’s Hospi­tal in Niskayuna, as well as the re­cent ad­di­tion of an ur­gent care cen­ter in Clifton Park.

For com­par­i­son, Al­bany Med­i­cal Cen­ter boasts more than 8,000 em­ploy­ees, a 734-bed hospi­tal and af­fil­i­a­tions with Saratoga Hospi­tal to the north and Columbia Memo­rial to the south.

St. Peter’s Health Part­ners, run by the na­tional health Catholic health sys­tem Trin­ity Health, is the re­gion’s largest pri­vate em­ployer with more than 12,500 em­ploy­ees and a $1.3 bil­lion an­nual bud­get. It in­cludes St. Peter’s Hospi­tal in Al­bany, Al­bany Memo­rial Hospi­tal, Sa­mar­i­tan Hospi­tal and St. Mary’s Hospi­tal in Troy, and Sun­nyview Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Hospi­tal in Sch­enec­tady, as well as a con­tin­u­ing care and hos­pice net­work.

The de­ci­sion to re­main in­de­pen­dent, Mil­ton ad­mit­ted, could have been dif­fer­ent if El­lis Medicine wasn’t in a strong state fi­nan­cially and clin­i­cally. Its net in­come in 2016 was $6.6 mil­lion, up from $4.5 mil­lion in 2015 but down from $13.8 mil­lion in 2014, ac­cord­ing to tax fil­ings.

If its fi­nan­cial pic­ture changes, or if out­side in­dus­try forces de­mand it, the board may re­visit its de­ci­sion, Mil­ton said.

“We still have our chal­lenges ahead of us,” he said. “But we feel con­fi­dent that we can make a bold de­ci­sion like this and sort of dou­ble down and make a go of it.”

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