SOMERSWORTH — Although the merger between Goodwin Community Health and Families First Health and Support Center has been in the works for three years, the collaboration between the two organizations goes back a lot further.
The two public health centers plan to merge by year’s end and held two public forums recently. At the Dover forum, David Staples, chairman of the board of Goodwin Community Health, talked about how the merger idea came up three years ago.
“One thing led to another,” he said. “We started having monthly meetings and said let’s do this.”
Once the merger is complete, Goodwin CEO Janet Laatsch will lead the merged organization as CEO. Laatsch, who has expertise in finance and nursing, has served as CEO since 2005. Helen Taft, Families First’s executive director since 1989, will retire once the transition is complete.
Taft said there’s already been a lot of cooperation and collaboration between the organizations.
According to a statement, Goodwin and Families First share similar heritages and values and nearly identical missions. They also share a 30-year history of collaborating on best practices, staffing solutions and population health programs, like mobile health care, to meet the needs of their adjoining service areas in southeastern New Hampshire and southern Maine.
Taft said Families First has two mobile medical vans that have traveled to Strafford County for many years.
“We really started to look at this five years ago,” Taft said. “We share a lot of the same patients who often move back and forth because of the cost of housing.”
Taft said there’s been a lot of talk on regionalization and mergers in health care.
“We are two of the most integrated health care centers in the state,” she said. “We can share experiences. We’ve both done a lot with the substance misuse and medically assisted treatment and the intensive outpatient program.”
Taft said there is a lot of synergy. Families First offers parenting programs that are needed in Strafford County.
“The economies of scale and consolidating administration will help,” she said. “Bigger can be better when it comes to access to capital and grants.”
Taft said the merged organizations will help with staff retention and give both units more bench depth.
Laatsch said both organizations have resources the other doesn’t. She called the merger a tremendous evolution for both organizations that will ultimately benefit patients by broadening community health care and sharing best practices.
“Throughout the process of becoming a single organization, our focus will be on continued patient-centered care to every single Families First and Goodwin Community Health patient,” she said.
State Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, attended the Dover forum and said the merger is terrific for these two organizations.
“They’re so well-known there’s a real synergy here to create a regional organization to improve health care outcomes while still respecting the missions of the two organizations,” Watters said. “We’re at a very exciting moment in health care.”
Jeffrey Hughes, vice president and chief strategy officer at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, said they support the merger.
“In my 30 years in health care, I believe this to be one of the most challenging periods we have ever seen,” Hughes said. “This merger will help prepare and also allow for sharing of the best ideas.”
Staples said they are doing the right thing, at the right time, for all the right reasons.
“We have done the due diligence and a lot of work over the past three years and there’s a lot of work ahead for all of us,” Staples said.
The merged organization will include Families First facilities in Portsmouth and Seabrook, Goodwin Community Health in Somersworth, and mobile health clinics in five Seacoast towns. For more information, visit GoodwinCH.org and FamiliesFirstSeacoast.org.