Merger could preserve vital health services

The proposal from VNA & Hospice of the Southwest Region and Manchester Health Services to merge sounds like by far the best option for preserving uninterrupted home health and related services in the Manchester area.

Clearly, according to a letter from the regional VNA organization to the Green Mountain Care Board seeking state approval, the merger is a rescue operation for MHS that is coming none too soon.

The Manchester-based organization, which has been operating in its current format since 1967 and dates to a predecessor organization that opened in 1942, has been hemorrhaging money in recent budget years. The deficits are primarily a result of regulatory and reimbursement changes at the federal level for Medicare and other programs that have adversely affected home health agencies for a decade, a VNA official said.

A VNA letter seeking emergency certificate of need review from the state board stated that loses at MHS totaled $432,645 and $246,499 respectively for the past two budget years, and that loses in January this year were more than $1,000 a day.

This situation, another reminder of the federal government's refusal to raise taxes to fund Medicare at anything close to a rational level given the need, was an untenable one for the relatively small home health organization, and its choices finally became close down or merge. MHS is far from the first local health organization to face that choice.

In fact, VNA & Hospice of the Southwest Region is itself composed of formerly separate services in Bennington and Rutland counties. We only hope that, as a larger regional entity, they are able to withstand the pressures that in the end swamped the MHS.

Under the current presidential administration, which has primarily sought to slash health care spending, it is possible that all bets are off concerning the government's continued role in insuring the health of its elderly, disabled and other citizens.

Under a memorandum of understanding signed by the boards of the two local health organizations, the merged entity will continue to operate from the MHS building on Main Street in Manchester and will continue to serve that town, as well as Arlington, Sandgate and Sunderland. The same services also are expected to continue, including those provided by nurses, licensed nursing aides, physical, speech, pathology and occupational therapists; medical social workers and certified hospice care-givers.

Anyone with a family member in need of home health or similar services should be aware of the crucial role they play in the nation's health care system. The proposed merger of these two organizations should preserve a wide range of vital services throughout the Northshire and region.


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