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Beth Israel Lahey Health Is Set To Become Official04:44
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An entrance to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston (Steven Senne/AP)
An entrance to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston (Steven Senne/AP)

The merger of two major Massachusetts hospital networks becomes official Friday.

The new Beth Israel Lahey Health (BILH) has 13 hospitals that cover eastern Massachusetts from Gloucester to Plymouth. A total of 4,300 physicians and 9,000 nurses practice in those hospitals, and the network has nearly 35,000 employees and 1.3 million patients.

BILH is not quite as big as Partners HealthCare, but it’s close.

Dr. Kevin Tabb, the president and CEO of BILH, told WBUR in an interview that the launch of the combined system is a "significant step forward in delivering the kind of health care that patients, families and communities deserve."

Tabb highlighted a plan to expand mental health and substance use treatment by embedding behavioral health clinicians in more than 100 primary care practices.

"When we do that, 500,000 people that presently don't have access to behavioral health resources will have access," Tabb said. "That will truly be different than what has been done to date."

Tabb also pledged to keep health care prices in check. In a settlement with Attorney General Maura Healey, BILH agreed to limits on annual price increases for the next seven years. Tabb and colleagues will also be expected to bring more MassHealth patients into the newly-merged system's hospitals and physician offices. The state Department of Public Health had cleared the merger with some similar conditions. Healey's office is in talks with BILH about hiring an independent monitor who will track compliance.

The concerns about rising prices and limited access come from a report released by the state's Health Policy Commission that found the merger of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health could increase costs in Massachusetts by $231 million a year. It also pointed to the risk that a new large network of hospitals in Massachusetts may hurt smaller community hospitals by reducing their bargaining power and leaving them with fewer patients.

The Health Policy Commission has no formal role in tracking the new network but commission Chair Stuart Altman said analysts will be watching as the numbers come in.

Altman said one of Tabb's greatest challenges will be in the merging of these two large systems with distinct ways of doing business and providing health care. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is one of the big Boston hospitals with a focus on primary care, said Altman. Lahey Health is a suburban network with a reputation for specialty care.

"Their histories are very different and their organizational structure was quite different, and [Tabb] is going to have to make this thing work as one," Altman said.

Tabb said he's often asked how he'll know if BILH has been successful in five years.  Tabb said the answer won't be in the amount of money brought in or the number of patients discharged.

"In five years time, if patients and their families tell us that we have made a difference in their lives, then we will have been wildly successful as far as I'm concerned," Tabb said.

Here are the 13 hospitals that make up Beth Israel Lahey Health:

  • Anna Jaques Hospital (Newburyport)
  • Addison Gilbert Hospital (Gloucester)
  • BayRidge Hospital (acute psychiatric hospital, Lynn)
  • Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Boston)
  • Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital–Milton
  • Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital–Needham
  • Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital–Plymouth
  • Beverly Hospital
  • Lahey Medical Center, Peabody
  • Winchester Hospital
  • Lahey Hospital and Medical Center (Burlington)
  • Mount Auburn Hospital (Cambridge)
  • New England Baptist Hospital (Boston)

This segment aired on February 28, 2019.

Earlier Coverage:

Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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Lisa Mullins Twitter Host, All Things Considered
Lisa Mullins is the voice of WBUR’s All Things Considered. She anchors the program, conducts interviews and reports from the field.

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