By Denise Richardson

Staff Writer

A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital and Bassett Healthcare officials said Tuesday they will enter talks about different ways to provide health care to area residents.

No meetings have been held, and officials said the talks will focus on cooperation between the institutions, not a merger, buyout or corporate link.

The Fox Hospital board unanimously decided at its September meeting that it makes sense to talk with Bassett about possible areas of cooperation in clinical services, John Remillard, Fox president and chief executive officer, said.

Challenges posed by a physician shortage, government reimbursement rates and other economic pressures prompted the move, which could identify improved ways to meet patient needs, he said.

In 1994, discussions between Bassett and Fox were stopped after the Fox medical staff urged halting talks of merging, sharing services or establishing other links.

``Bassett has always been open to opportunities to work together with Fox,’’ Dr. Steven Heneghan, chief of surgery, who has been involved with the latest possibility of negotiations, said Tuesday.

``We are really, honestly describing these as very preliminary,’’ he cautioned.

Reasons supporting talks include higher gasoline prices faced by patients, he said, and physician-recruiting challenges faced by Bassett, in addition to stress in the economy and changes in the health-care industry.

The motivation is better service to patients in the area rather than cost savings, he said.

And it’s too early to specify which services might be shared, changes in staffing, a timetable or other steps that might be taken, Heneghan said.

Remillard said he hoped a meeting among representatives from the two institutions could be arranged for November with some results, such as some Bassett physicians working with Fox, late this year or early next year. He said no layoffs are expected.

Fox Hospital is struggling to generate revenues to meet its $82 million annual budget, Remillard said. Financial savings are possible in a cooperative situation and are a consideration, but they aren’t a driving factor in implementing talks, he said.

Fox’s affiliation with Albany Medical Center remains, said Remillard, who has told colleagues there about the pending talks. Long-term ties with the center haven’t been addressed, he said.

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