Backus, Hartford HealthCare ready to seek state approval for affiliation

Norwich — The William W. Backus Hospital and Hartford HealthCare, the parent company of Hartford Hospital, plan to apply within the next few weeks for state approval of an affiliation agreement between the two hospitals, and would seek Federal Trade Commission approval after that.

The application preparations are set to begin now that the boards of directors of both hospitals have approved a partnership agreement. The two announced Friday that they had reached a formal agreement seven months after signing a Letter of Intent to explore a formal affiliation.

"This is a really important and really great day for eastern Connecticut in terms of health care," Backus spokesman Shawn Mawhiney said. "It will ensure that Backus and its partners are viable for the future, and hopefully improve and expand health care services."

In joining Hartford HealthCare, Backus will become part of one of the largest health care networks in the state. In addition to Hartford Hospital, it includes the Hospital of Central Connecticut, MidState Medical Center, Nachaug Hospital and Windham Hospital.

Under the agreement, Backus will retain its name and its board of directors, with the addition of two members from the Hartford HealthCare system. Two Backus board members will be added to the Hartford HealthCare board.

To become final, the agreement must be approved by the state Office of Health Care Access, the state Attorney General's Office and the Federal Trade Commission.

Under the agreement, Hartford HealthCare agrees to commit $200 million toward a strategic plan and new services to improve health care in the eastern Connecticut region, according to a news release from the two hospitals. It also would create a $3 million fund to support the retention of physicians and would commit to maintaining the trauma center and Life Star helicopter at Backus.

The agreement also calls for the development of a comprehensive cancer center and enhanced cardiac care services at Backus, as well as the creation of a Preventive Medicine Institute there that would focus on wellness. The agreement also calls for the strengthening of Backus' primary care and outpatient care network.

Both initiatives are intended to better position the hospital for changes in the health care industry that are focusing more attention on keeping people healthy and out of the hospital, Mawhiney said.

"Strong primary care and outpatient services are key to preventive health care," he said.

Other components of the agreement include development of an outpatient surgery network and commitments to funding activities that benefit the community, such as education programs, subsidized and charity health care for uninsured and underinsured patients. The agreement also will bring health care and health screening services to new locations in the community.

"We are excited about the opportunities our affiliation will bring to our patients, communities and staff members," Elliot Joseph, president and chief executive officer of Hartford HealthCare, said in a news release. "Together, we will improve the quality of care by increasing the sharing of best practices, treatments, services and innovative technology throughout our system. Our staff members will benefit from the greater professional opportunities available in a larger health care system."

j.benson@theday.com

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