Williamstown Medical Associates has sold its offices to Berkshire Health Systems as part of its affiliation with the health network.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williamstown Medical Associates has entered into an affiliation with Berkshire Health Systems that its physicians hope will give the half-century-old practice more "horsepower" in serving patients and recruiting primary-care doctors.
The agreement includes the sale Monday of the practice's medical building and property at 197 Adams Road for $2.5 million to Berkshire Health System's realty arm BHS Management Services. The offices were built four years ago for about $2 million.
The practice will lease back the space and continue its operations at Northern Berkshire Healthcare's Ambulatory Care Center in North Adams as well.
Dr. Anthony M. Smeglin, president of the associates, said patients should see little or no changes. "Right now, it's business as usual," he said, adding that the transition appears to be going smoothly.
"I think really it's about increasing the horsepower of what we can do in terms of medical care, coordinating across the county, between practices, under the umbrella of Berkshire Health Systems as well as stabilizing and enhancing what we can do at Williamstown Medical Associates," he said.
The changing nature of the national health care delivery system, including the Affordable Care Act, had prompted the group to begin looking at strategic partnerships the last couple years. Berkshire Health Systems was approached some months ago and talks had "accelerated over the last few weeks."
"When we looked at what was happening in 2013, we didn't want our practice to get to the point of a crisis," said Smeglin. Instead, partnering with BHS in this way could keep all the services going through a coordinated transition, and ensure support and stability for the practice's future.
Williamstown Medical serves some 12,000 patients in the area and employs 19 full- and part-time physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners, a number the group hopes to increase.
"We definitely hope this affiliation will help us be more successful in recruiting for primary-care providers, which was very difficult," said Smeglin. "We've been trying of years ...
"There's just a shortage nationally. Part of our goal with this affiliation is to increase our recruiting power."
BHS will also aid in enhancing the practice's electronic health record and telecommunications systems and provide greater access to specialized areas of care that had been limited or unavailable to the doctors previously.
According to the practice, "this new affiliation follows many years of collaborative effort between Berkshire Health Systems and North County health-care providers to assure the availability of important services for people in the region." Berkshire Health Systems and Northern Berkshire Healthcare already have partnerships for cardiology and urology services; BHS also provides support to other North County medical practices and WMA has relationships with its nursing facilities in the area.
"The Berkshire Health Systems and Williamstown Medical Associates affiliation is an important step for health care in all of Berkshire County," said Tim Jones, president of Northern Berkshire Healthcare, in a statement. "We are grateful to the Berkshire Health Systems Board of Trustees and BHS President David Phelps for responding to this critical need in Northern Berkshire quickly and comprehensively."
NBH brought Northern Berkshire Family Medicine into its network in 2008, when the primary-care practice nearly dissolved. Smeglin sees more doctors groups taking this route under increasing financial pressures because of reimbursements, regulations and the institution of the Affordable Care Act.
The whole practice infrastructure is changing, he said. "That makes it harder and harder for practices to maintain their complete independence."
"I think a lot of practices are going to need to affiliate or consolidate to try to address the needs of what's going on from the standpoint of patient care, to make sure they can take care of the patients and be sustainable and viable in the long run," said Smeglin. "I think we're going to see more and more of that happening."