Samaritan CEO denies being invited to partnership talks, multiple hospital heads say otherwise



WATERTOWN — Local hospitals partnering with Crouse Health in Syracuse claim Samaritan Medical Center was invited to affiliation talks but declined, despite denials from Samaritan’s chief executive officer.

River Hospital, Carthage Area Hospital and Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center announced a group partnership with Crouse Health on Monday. The affiliation agreement maintains each hospital’s independence in governance, budgeting, labor agreements and will not move or remove any local services.

Samaritan CEO Thomas Carman said Monday Samaritan was not invited to affiliation discussions. However, in a meeting earlier that day, the affiliating hospitals’ CEOs said Samaritan administration was contacted on more than one occasion but was uninterested in discussing partnership.

River Hospital CEO Ben Moore III confirmed that several meetings with Samaritan took place “regarding potential affiliations with Crouse.”

According to Mr. Moore, a meeting was held on May 8 between Mr. Carman and two Samaritan hospital board members, Claxton-Hepburn CEO Nate Howell and two of his board members and Mr. Moore and one of his board members.

“I advised all present that Kimberly Boynton of Crouse had asked us to extend an invitation to Samaritan to participate in our discussions with Crouse,” Mr. Moore said of the meeting in an email. “The Samaritan representatives indicated that (they) had no interest in talking to institutions outside of the north country.”

And on June 27, 2016, Mr. Moore said Crouse Health CEO Kimberly A. Boynton and consultant David Fix met with Mr. Carman and extended an invitation to collaborate — which Samaritan declined.

Discussions between the participating north country hospitals began in earnest last spring, though each one has been looking for a senior partner for some time in the face of a changing industry landscape, and more recently, the uncertainty surrounding health care legislation.

When contacted several times Thursday for comment again, Mr. Carman could not be reached.

A public statement released on Monday on behalf of the four partnering hospitals reads:

“Crouse Health’s clinical affiliation model allows the hospitals to strengthen patient services, share best practices and expertise, and gain economies of scale while preserving each hospital’s local leadership and independent board of directors ... All three hospitals had discussions with Samaritan Medical Center about an affiliation but were unable to come to an agreement. River Hospital and Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center consulted with Samaritan on the discussions with Crouse Health, who also had conversations with Samaritan, but Samaritan declined involvement.”

“Physicians will always go for the best clinical option available,” Mr. Moore said in the Monday meeting when asked if patients will now bypass Samaritan in Watertown for Crouse. “Not much will be different, but now we’ll have a partner in Syracuse.”

“There’s no mandate to physicians to refer (to Crouse,)” agreed Dr. Seth Kronenberg, chief medical officer at Crouse.“We’re not looking to cut off flow to Samaritan.”

When asked Monday afternoon to comment on the agreement, Mr. Carman said in an email, “In this period of healthcare reform, it has become a trend across the state and nation for small hospitals to affiliate with larger hospitals and health systems, and the North Country is no different. In 2013, for example, Samaritan Medical Center formed an affiliation with Clifton-Fine Hospital in Star Lake.”

“(Samaritan) is fortunate to be in a financially stable position, which has allowed us to remain an independent not-for-profit hospital.”

Jen JacksonComment