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Health Alliance In The Hudson Valley: A Triumph Of Community Wellness by Marion Poole

Though modern medical practices and clinics offer multiple choices of health care options, few contribute to the overall economic well being of a community as much as healthy local hospitals. Not only do they provide quality local employment, but they greatly enhance the area’s chances of attracting larger companies looking to move or expand their operations. People looking to move to the area look at local health care options as a sign of the general vibrancy of a local economy. In stating the obvious, local hospitals provide for the health of the whole community, helping to make it strong and vibrant.

As many now know, the city of Kingston—and Ulster County—was in danger of losing half of its available health care with the closing of one of its two hospitals, either The Kingston Hospital or Benedictine Hospital. In 2006, New York created the Berger Commission to assess the future health care needs of the state’s regions. This Commission studied the existing facilities in all of New York State, including the Hudson Valley and compared that information to the needs of the community and what it could support economically. The Commission found that having more than one hospital in the area created overlapping of services, equipment, and administration, leading to less efficiency and higher costs. The closing of either one of Kingston’s hospitals, however, would not leave the community with sufficient needed care. Thus, the Commission recommended a merger of the two hospitals.

This merger has been an ongoing goal since 2006, but the accomplishment of reaching a merger agreement was not guaranteed. The Kingston Hospital and Benedictine Hospital have differing missions in many regards—one being secular and the other religious. The primary difference involves the reproductive health care services that The Kingston Hospital provides and Benedictine Hospital does not. But, after two years of negotiations, a deal was made and a new facility—the Foxhall Ambulatory Surgery Center—is due to finish construction in early 2009 and will provide those services near The Kingston Hospital campus.

With the merger of the two Kingston hospitals, along with the Margaretville Hospital in Delaware County, the residents of Kingston and the surrounding area will actually find new care options available. By eliminating much of the duplication in services and administration costs, the new HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley will be able to upgrade current facilities and services and provide newer treatment options. A new Maternity Center will open in The Kingston Hospital campus that will offer a variety of delivery options. The Benedictine campus will build two new operating rooms for orthopedic surgery, with plans for an orthopedic center in the future. The Substance Abuse Rehabilitation and Medically Managed Detoxification program will move from The Kingston Hospital to the Benedictine Hospital’s inpatient Psychiatric units, with the goal of eventually developing a Behavioral Health Center. Benedictine’s Emergency Center will be converted to an Urgent Care Center. The Kingston Hospital will take on the consolidated Emergency Center. That campus will also expand its ICU.

The merger has already attracted new specialists to serve the area. The consolidation has also led to a sharing of information and expertise and both The Kingston Hospital and Benedictine Hospital have achieved designations as leaders in health specialties. The Kingston Hospital is one of only a few in New York to be designated as a Chest Pain Center. Both hospitals have been designated as Stroke Centers and both have received notable awards in patient satisfaction and service. The HealthAlliance will also add alternative approaches to health care that focus on wellness, prevention, and overall healthier lifestyles.

Many in the health care community are happy that the new HealthAlliance merger will result in more advanced and enhanced health care options for the Mid-Hudson Valley residents, as the money saved with the consolidation can be reinvested in new equipment, facilities, and special care units. The response to the Commission’s recommendations could have been dealt with very differently, with the result of having no merger and losing a major share of health options available, but a strong plan was put in place with support at the local and state level. The Department of Health, the Berger Commission, and even the Governor’s office, view the consolidation as the model for other regions to follow. With Ulster County’s wellness in mind, the individuals involved worked through their differences and arrived at a solution that will continue to provide the community with the best caliber of health care, while preserving each hospital’s mission and workforce.

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