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Hospitals agree to share some services

NIAGARA FALLS -- Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center have agreed to work together on some shared services after a year of talks on a full merger between the hospitals ended in "irreconcilable differences."

The state Health Department announced Friday that the two hospitals have complied with the mandates of the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century, also known as the Berger Commission.

Merger talks failed because of differences about women's health services.

Mount St. Mary's is a Catholic hospital, owned by Ascension Health.

Memorial is run by a local, nonprofit corporation.

"If we were 100 percent Catholic ownership, we must abide by religious directives, which would affect reproductive health care, such as family planning, contraceptives, vasectomies," said Joseph A. Ruffolo, CEO and president of Niagara Falls Memorial. "But if [a new hospital] was not following religious directives, Ascension would pull out as a sponsor."

State Health Department staff said they actively supervised the discussions and brought in a mediator, but talks concluded that irreconcilable differences in women's health services and corporate control made a single ownership structure impossible.

Under the accepted plan, both hospitals will remain independent but have agreed to collaborate on some services. They include joint recruitment of specialty physicians, infection control efforts, development of electronic medical records and creation of a jointly owned ambulatory care center.

Ruffolo said the two hospitals came out of the talks closer rather than further apart.

"Jointly recruiting specialists is a big place for us to start," he said. "We can attract the best and brightest and share in these costs. This is a small market. By bringing in one specialist, rather than two, we can be more competitive and pull in patients."

He said they also will share in building a database for medical records. Ruffolo called this significant because it will help avoid duplication of tests and allow physicians to track what is happening at each hospital.

"These two hospitals are to be commended for responding in a constructive manner to the Berger Commission mandates," state Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines said in a written statement.

Judith A. Maness, CEO and president of Mount St. Mary's, said that both hospitals were pleased that the commission has recognized the efforts they put into the process.

"Our staff leadership dedicated a great deal of time and effort over the past 10 months, during what proved to be substantive and important discussions," Maness said. "While we were not successful in achieving joint governance with Niagara Falls Memorial, we are pleased that opportunities were identified for increased collaboration."

Daines said the Health Department has determined that discussions between the two hospitals were made in good faith so that neither hospital will be penalized.

Maness said Mount St. Mary's officials were pleased that the discussions were complete so that they would be able to proceed with other projects.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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