L+M, Yale-New Haven present optimistic picture for hospital one year after affiliation

New London — Leaders at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and the Yale New Haven Health network on Monday offered an optimistic view of the future for the hospital more than a year after their affiliation, acknowledging the work yet to come while trumpeting financial success, newly hired doctors and investment in community health.

Speaking at a public forum mandated by the state Office of Healthcare Access following the affiliation, L+M CEO Patrick Green said that Yale New Haven has recruited 15 new doctors, including four primary care physicians, in the year since L+M became part of the health system that also includes Westerly Hospital.

He said inpatient volume has increased, as has the satisfaction that patients express with the care they get at L+M.

L+M and the hospital system face challenges in the form of potential cuts to Medicaid and state-level legislation, as well as threats to the Affordable Care Act from Congress.

The overhaul of the tax system that passed the U.S. Senate on Saturday contained a Republican proposal to repeal a key aspect of President Barack Obama’s health care law, repealing the requirement that all Americans obtain health insurance.

Meanwhile, the sign-up period for health insurance in 2018 through the Connecticut Affordable Care ACT marketplace, Access Health CT, ends in three weeks, and CEO Jim Wadleigh told the CT Mirror enrollment numbers will be about even with last year.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with the Affordable Care Act in Washington, D.C., as well as the state level,” Green said.

Catherine Zall, the director of the New London Homeless Hospitality Center and pastor of the First Congregational Church in New London, spoke as the community representative to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital’s board of directors.

Her position on the board was created as one of the conditions of the affiliation agreement.

Zall said the hospital’s board has moved through an initial period of trying to attain financial stability — the hospital has moved from a projected $9 million loss in 2016 to planning to break nearly even in fiscal year 2018 — and now shows commitment to expanding its role in the greater New London community.

“I think many of us in the community knew when the affiliation was approved that the first stage was going to be stabilizing L+M’s finances and operations,” Zall said. “A lot of work has been done on that front … and as that stabilization process is completed , we can go back to some of the (questions) about how the hospital can expand into assistance to the community.”

The hospital is conducting an ongoing assessment of the community’s needs and this spring announced a $50,000 investment that would fund activities designed to improve health in two New London neighborhoods.

“I have to say, I feel an increased interest on the part of the board and in hospital management in thinking about the community,” Zall said. “Health care is going to have to expand beyond the hospital.”

Yale New Haven Health has tried to address a local shortage of primary care physicians by hiring four new doctors between Westerly Hospital and L+M, and plans to hire four more in 2018, according to Vincent Petrini, a spokesman for Yale New Haven Health.

Since the merger L+M doctors are able to tackle more complex medical problems, Petrini said, and more people are saying they would recommend the hospital to a friend. 

“Patients are staying here in New London … and it’s more complex care,” he said. “That’s our patients telling us that we’re doing okay.”

The forum, one of several planned over the three years after the affiliation, was run by a representative from Deloitte & Touche, a financial advising firm assigned to oversee L+M's compliance with the terms of the agreement and report to state regulators.

m.shanahan@theday.com

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