Responding to calls for more community involvement in its operations, Optima Healthcare has created two new independent boards of trustees to reconsider its controversial decision to consolidate acute-care services at one of its two hospitals in Manchester, N.H.
The boards are the most visible component of the embattled system's response to charges that its headlong rush to consolidate has ignored the hospitals' historic charitable missions and the community's commitment to maintaining two acute-care hospitals in New Hampshire's largest city.
Optima is the parent of 243-bed Elliot Hospital and 262-bed Catholic Medical Center, the only two nonfederal acute-care facilities in Manchester. Elliot and Catholic Medical merged in 1994 to form Optima, which now also oversees two other hospitals in New Hampshire.
The New Hampshire attorney general issued a scathing report in March that said Optima had broken state charity laws by ignoring the missions of the Manchester hospitals when in 1995 Optima decided to consolidate acute-care services at Elliot and convert Catholic Medical to provide rehabilitation and outpatient services (March 16, p. 2).
Since then, the attorney general and Optima have been talking privately about how to remedy the situation.
Each special board will have 16 members, who are to be selected by June 22. The Elliot board will include five representatives from the five existing Protestant churches named in the will of Mary Elliot, benefactor of the hospital that bears her name. In addition, the board will include the mayor of Manchester, president of the Elliot Auxiliary and nine public members, including four physicians from the hospital's medical staff.
The constituents of the Catholic Medical board will be decided in two steps. First, seven members will be named by the Roman Catholic bishop of Manchester. Those members and the president of the CMC Auxiliary will then elect eight public members, including four physicians nominated by the hospital's medical staff.
"We think this is a major step for establishing the independence of the two hospital boards," said Walter Maroney, chief of the consumer protection bureau in the New Hampshire attorney general's office.
To assist the boards in their work, accounting and consulting firm Ernst & Young will prepare a report by July 15 on the long-term financial viability of operating two acute-care hospitals in Manchester (See chart).
To assure objectivity, the attorney general engaged consulting firm Arthur Andersen to prepare strict guidelines Ernst & Young must follow in performing the analysis.