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Hospital alliance set for 2013

Athol-Memorial, Henry Heywood Memorial form North Central Healthcare

ATHOL — The turn of the year will usher in a new era in health care for the state’s north central region — when a “strategic alliance” between Athol-Memorial Hospital and the Henry Heywood Memorial Hospital in Gardner goes into effect Tuesday.

Both hospitals will remain operational, governed by a newly formed North Central Healthcare company under the direction of individuals currently serving in Heywood administrative roles.

The ownership change involves no money, only a transfer of corporate control at Athol-Memorial. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Attorney General’s Office officially approved of the transaction earlier this month.

The change won’t be noticeable if internal work done by both hospitals during the past few months has been effective, said Rebecca Bialecki, a member of the newly formed North Central Healthcare Board of Trustees and executive director of the North Quabbin Community Coalition.

“We want it to be a seamless transition,” said Bialecki, one of six Athol-Memorial board members to move to the 18-member North Central Healthcare board.

Athol-Memorial Hospital — a 62-year-old hospital that serves about 10 in-patients daily, has 25 beds and is staffed with 180 full- and part-time employees — will continue to have “a life of its own,” Bialecki said.

But the merger will also expose Athol-Memorial to increased resources. Goals for the coming years include making physical improvements to the emergency department and improving the attractiveness of the hospital as an employment spot for doctors coming out of school, Bialecki said.

And at Heywood, a 153-bed acute-care hospital that opened in 1907 and currently serves 110 admitted patients each day, the merger will represent an opportunity for the hospital to increase its patient base in the region.

“Together, Heywood and Athol can more effectively care for our communities than they could separately,” said Winfield Brown, Heywood’s top executive and the new president and CEO of North Central Healthcare, in a prepared statement.

The two hospitals will be able to coordinate care and make services more accessible for its patients, said Brown in the statement. He will oversee the parent organization, as well as the two hospitals.

Michael Grimmer, a Heywood administrator, will manage Athol-Memorial. He will take over for Jim Meeham, a board member who served as interim president and CEO since April.

Kenneth Pierce, a Heywood board member, will chair the North Central Healthcare Board of Trustees — which consists of 12 Heywood members and six Athol members. The board’s first meeting is Friday.

Although the hospitals will be managed by Heywood administrators, all of the region’s patients will receive the same benefits, said North Central Healthcare board member Daniel Asquino.

“It’s a huge opportunity for both organizations,” said Asquino, former chair of the Heywood Hospital board and current president of Mount Wachusett Community College. “It’s clear ... that this is going to be a balanced organization, one that would represent evenly all the patients it’s going to serve.”

North Central Healthcare will also oversee three affiliates of the hospitals: QuabbinCare, Heywood Affiliated Medical Group and the Heywood Hospital Realty Corp.

You can reach Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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