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Prudent talks

It is the prudent thing that the community hospitals in New London and Westerly are considering a possible merger or affiliation.

Health care is not only complicated these days, it is expensive. So the cautious collaboration between Lawrence & Memorial Hospital and The Westerly Hospital should comfort citizens who have come to rely on the medical care provided by each institution. Any decision to ultimately team up could mean better and more economical health care for patients.

The hospitals announced on Wednesday that they have signed a non-binding letter of intent to continue exploring some type of alliance. Already talking quietly for the past two months, their decision to go public signals that the conversation may be getting more serious.

The Affordable Care Act that became effective in 2010 and pending changes in Medicare reimbursement rules are fueling hospital collaboratives such as the one being considered by L&M and Westerly. Like any other service business, there are efficiencies in volume, even for hospitals.

And as The Day's story pointed out, other hospitals, including a number in Connecticut, have already gone down the same path.

No one knows yet where these talks will ultimately lead, but if they are fruitful, it could mean preservation of two of the region's nonprofit community hospitals. In other places for-profit health care companies are taking over nonprofit hospitals, and the region could suffer if that were to happen here.

Community hospitals serve a vital function in everyday life, offering not just emergency care, but wellness and preventive health care programming, too. In southeastern Connecticut and southern Rhode Island people know that they can turn to their community hospitals for far more than trauma care or surgeries.

And that shouldn't change. That kind of care makes for a better community.

In recent years The Westerly Hospital has struggled financially, while L&M has been more fiscally stable. But both institutions face numerous challenges in the years ahead. That's what makes the collaboration talks so important.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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