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Panel outlines recommendations to improve north country health care

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Expanding primary care, assisted living facilities and telehealth services are among the recommendations of a committee studying how to improve health care in the north country.

The North Country Health Systems Redesign Commission, which outlined its proposals to the state in a news release Friday evening, also is calling for new medical collaborations and financial aid.

The commission held four public meetings since its formation in December. Its members will submit their ideas to state Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah on March 31.

“I am very pleased with the recommendations that have emerged from this effort, and believe they will have a significant impact on improving health care in this challenging region of our state, both for providers and patients, as well as payors,” said Daniel Sisto, the commission’s chairman.

Other recommendations would increase regulatory flexibility to facilitate Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment projects, integrate behavioral health care services with primary care, create a new funding category for facilities financially stressed because of their transitional work, and develop the region’s health-care resources.

The ideas stem from the State Health Innovation Plan, which aims to improve patient care and population health while reducing costs.

The commission had the difficult job of creating recommendations for a nine-county region stretching from Jefferson to Washington counties. Its work is seen as critical for the industry in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, which experienced financial turmoil in recent months, including at what is now Gouverneur Hospital and the North Country Family Health Center in Watertown.

“Many of the recommendations are aimed at collaborative efforts that are not only good for providers’ bottom line, but are good for patients,” said Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa.

She pointed out that many area hospitals already have started working together.

On Thursday, Lewis County General Hospital, Lowville, announced an affiliation with St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, Syracuse.

The county-owned hospital is one of seven participating in the North Country Initiative, which plan to collaborate to share governance, inpatient reduction and health care service restructuring.

Other local members of the commission are Tedra L. Cobb, president and owner of consulting firm Tedra L. Cobb and Associates; state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Denise K. Young, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization.

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