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Upstate NY Hospital Merger Could Impact End-of-Life Care Options

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021   

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. -- A proposed merger between two hospital systems in upstate New York has some residents and health-care advocates concerned about the potential loss of certain types of medical care, including end-of-life options.

Albany's St. Peter's Health Partners and Ellis Medicine in Schenectady first announced their intent to merge a year ago. Ellis Medicine posted a $33 million loss last year.

Because St. Peter's is owned by Catholic system Trinity Health and is governed by certain ethical and religious directives, the merger could affect care options for people facing terminal illnesses.

Kim Callinan, president and CEO of Compassion and Choices, a group which advocates for medical aid in dying, worries about the impact of the merger on patients and their families.

"The fundamental principle is that they should preserve life at all costs," Callinan explained. "For some people, this may not be an issue at all; it may be in line with their values and priorities. But we know a large portion of people do not want to suffer at the end of life, and want to have the full breadth of options that are available."

Callinan pointed out the merger could limit choices for families of people with dementia or on ventilators. In a statement, the St. Peter's Health Partners system said it helps "countless patients and families navigate end-of-life decisions," but did not specifically address medical aid in dying.

Michelle Ostrelich, Schenectady County legislator and founding member of the Schenectady Coalition for Healthcare Access, which was created as a result of the proposed health-system merger, said the coalition has had private conversations about the merger with the health systems, but the groups have not welcomed public talks.

"Our community has supported Ellis for 100 years," Ostrelich emphasized. "Volunteers, taxpayer funds have all gone to support our community hospital. And they are obligated, frankly, to answer the questions from the public directly. They've refused to do that."

St. Peter's Health Partners said the New York State Department of Health is reviewing the Management Services Agreement for the merger, a two-year non-binding pact which allows the two systems to start working together. It said the two companies plan to update the community and share specifics in coming weeks, pending approval of the agreement.

Disclosure: Compassion and Choices contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Health Issues, Senior Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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