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New babies ring in the new year in the region

BRATTLEBORO — Every New Year’s Day, Ladd and Lefei Osborne search the local newspaper to read about the first baby. This year, their newborn son is the one being featured.

The Brattleboro couple’s third child arrived at 4:01 a.m. Wednesday at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital — the first birth reported by local hospitals in 2020.

Just across the state line at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, another baby arrived just minutes after. Mara Welnak was born at 4:09 a.m., weighing 7 pounds, 2 ounces, and measuring 21 inches long. She is the first child of Megan and Dr. John “Jack” Welnak of Surry.

Megan is well-acquainted with her daughter’s birthplace; she is the wellness adviser for Cheshire Medical’s Center for Population Health. Jack is a dentist at Welnak Dental in Keene.

The Osbornes’ baby, Jonah Xiao Yi Zhu Osborne, was born 10 days before his due date. Even still, he was 8 pounds, 14 ounces and measured 20 inches long.

“I’m very grateful [he was early],” Lefei said, laughing.

As a gift for being the hospital’s first baby of the year, Brattleboro Memorial’s Auxiliary donated a basket to the Osbornes filled with a teddy bear, hand-knitted blanket and a handmade stocking.

Lefei said she was playing Tuesday with her other two children — Elijah Zhong Yi, 4, and Olivia Mei Yi, 2 — when she felt contractions.

At first, she debated on heading to the hospital. Ladd was at work in upstate New York, and she figured the contractions were just Braxton Hicks, before the real labor began.

But by the time she arrived at the hospital, after her neighbor drove her, she was already eight centimeters dilated. To give birth, a woman is dilated 10 centimeters.

“I did not expect that,” Lefei said.

She joked she had even bought fireworks yesterday for New Year’s Eve. Those will now be used when the family celebrates Chinese New Year on Jan. 25, as Lefei is Chinese.

And now every Jan. 1, the couple has another occasion to commemorate.

“It’s nice that on the first day of the New Year we now have something special to celebrate,” Lefei said.

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Parents of Keene, Peterborough hospitals take next step toward merger

Two major health care systems with campuses in Keene and Peterborough filed for approval from state officials this week to merge into one.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health — a Lebanon-based network of five hospitals, including Cheshire Medical Center in Keene — and GraniteOne Health first announced plans to merge in January. GraniteOne Health formed in 2017 with three hospitals — Peterborough’s Monadnock Community Hospital, Catholic Medical Center in Manchester and Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro.

In October, the two systems signed an agreement to become Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health GraniteOne.

The proposal received approval from the systems’ boards, and Rev. Peter Libasci, bishop of Manchester, also issued a declaration of no objection to allow the merger to continue. This latter assent was sought due to Catholic Medical Center’s religious affiliation.

But the merger still needs to be approved by the N.H. Attorney General’s Office, as well as by federal regulators.

Lauren Collins-Cline, director of communications and public relations for Catholic Medical Center, said in an email Tuesday the filing to the Attorney General’s Office was made Monday.

She added that the office’s Charitable Trust Unit, which will review the request, will look to ensure the combined system complies with state law and is in the best interest of patients.

“The [Charitable Trust Unit] has up to 120 days to review, hold hearings and make a decision,” she said.

Filings to the Federal Trade Commission are expected to be sent in late January, she noted.

If the merger is approved, all of the organizations involved would keep their current names, identities and local leadership, according to a joint October news release from the health systems.

Meanwhile, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health GraniteOne Board of Trustees would oversee the system’s strategic direction, Collins-Cline said previously.

In addition to Cheshire Medical Center, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health also has hospitals in Lebanon, New London and Windsor, Vt., as well as 24 clinics in the Twin States.

By forming one combined entity, the member organizations aim to better address the growing demand for integrated patient care throughout the region, the previous release stated.

Officials from the systems have also said the merger would give Dartmouth-Hitchcock, already the largest hospital system in New Hampshire, access to new markets, such as Peterborough and Wolfeboro, and expand its foothold in Manchester.

In turn, GraniteOne Health could benefit from lower prices for supplies and medications as part of a larger system and get better rates for employee health benefits.

“The combination of our health care systems will ultimately strengthen the quality of care offered throughout each of our members organizations, including Cheshire Medical Center,” said the Keene hospital’s CEO Don Caruso in an email Tuesday. “... physicians will have the ability to collaborate in new ways that tighten our relationship between the two organizations and offer increased access to specialty services.”

Mergers have become increasingly popular among health care systems nationwide, as hospitals — especially in rural areas — continue to deal with financial pressures from federal Medicare cuts and decreasing Medicaid payments from states, according to a 2018 report in the academic journal Health Affairs.

This latest proposal marks the second time Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health has tried to join with Catholic Medical Center. In 2010, then-N.H. Attorney General Michael Delaney opposed a merger between Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health System and what was then called Catholic Medical Center Healthcare because it would have changed the governance and structure of the Catholic hospital.