Northern hospitals compete for cardiac patients

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(Host) Vermont’s largest hospital has launched an unprecedented advertising campaign aimed at preserving market share in New York State. Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington is worried it will lose patients to a new cardiac care facility in Plattsburgh, New York. But an official at the New York hospital says Fletcher Allen rejected a plan two years ago to work together to meet patient needs.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Cardiac care is a money-maker for hospitals. And Fletcher Allen in Burlington is concerned that Champlain Valley Physician’s Hospital across the lake in Plattsburgh is about to cut into its customer base.

The New York hospital will open an open-heart surgery center in July. So Fletcher Allen has planned an advertising counter-offensive. Fletcher Allen CEO Dr. Melinda Estes:

(Estes) “We are mindful of the new cardiac services programs starting at CVPH in Plattsburgh and we wanted to be sure to remind our patients both in New York and northern Vermont of the breadth and depth of our services at Fletcher Allen.”

(Dillon) Mike Hildebran, marketing director for Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, says the open competition may not have been necessary. He says Champlain Valley approached Fletcher Allen two years ago to see if the Vermont hospital wanted to work together on cardiac care.

New York State requires hospitals that want to open advanced cardiac care facilities to set up a mentor relationship with an institution that already offer the services. According to Hildebran, Fletcher Allen rejected the overture from the Plattsburgh hospital.

(Hildebran) “Fletcher Allen certainly back in 2002 had the opportunity to work closely with us. And they apparently decided that was not in their best interest.”

(Dillon) Fletcher Allen’s ad campaign will cost $900,000. Jeanne Keller, a consultant and health care watchdog in Burlington, says that’s money that the hospital didn’t have to spend.

(Keller) “The underlying problem is not just about market share advertising, which I think would gripe people to begin with. It’s that Fletcher Allen made a big mistake when they rebuffed an opportunity to set up a collaborative effort. It would have saved consumers a lot of money.”

(Dillon) Fletcher Allen recently spent $5.2 million to upgrade its own cardiology center. Keller says that the northern New York and northern Vermont will now have a surplus of cardiac care facilities. She says that will drive up health care expenditures in the region.

Dr. Estes at Fletcher Allen wasn’t on the job when the decision was made not to work with the New York hospital. She says she’s trying to steer the hospital toward collaboration, not competition.

(Estes) “One of my goals is for us to be collaborative with hospitals here in Vermont and with hospitals in northern New York. And even though CVPH and Fletcher Allen have agreed that we are competing in the cardiac services arena, we have a joint neuro-surgical program we have undertaken. So I think going forward we are looking for collaborative relationships.”

(Dillon) Cardiac services bring about $56 million a year to the Vermont hospital, out of a total $518 million in net patient revenue; $18.5 million of its cardiac care revenue comes from the northern New York market.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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