Tufts Medical Center And Boston Medical Center In Merger Talks

The wave of Massachusetts hospital consolidations is building.

Tufts Medical Center and Boston Medical Center (BMC) issued statements Wednesday night confirming that the two not-for-profit institutions are discussing a merger.

"Tufts MC is our neighbor, we know them, we respect them, and we share a common geography and a commitment to providing high quality care to all patients," said Jennifer Watson, chief of staff at BMC. "Like the rest of the health care community we have considered strategic partnerships, and with Tufts MC we have recognized that the combination of our individual strengths could create a partnership uniquely positioned to improve health care in Massachusetts."

"Our organizations share a commitment to high quality, lower cost health care and to serving every patient with the greatest respect and compassion," Tufts Medical Center Vice President Brooke Hynes said in a statement. "We also share a mutual commitment to our academic missions of clinical excellence, teaching and research."

It's not clear how close the hospitals are to an agreement. They have separate medical schools that would not be part of the deal. The buildings are just over a mile apart (Tufts in Chinatown, BMC in the South End). Their missions have traditionally been somewhat different, with BMC as a major trauma and safety net hospital and Tufts striving to model the low cost, high quality alternative to other, more expensive Boston hospitals.

But it sounds like the talks are going well.

From Watson at BMC: "There is more work we need to do before making a decision, but our conversations to date suggest the combination of our organizations could strengthen our missions to provide the highest-quality care to patients for many years to come."

And from Hynes at Tufts: "Bringing our strengths together could be very powerful and meaningful, and we look forward to continuing our conversations with BMC."

Some health care analysts question whether Boston will need both hospitals in the years to come as more and more procedures are completed during the day and patients go home rather than spending the night in the hospital. But others say these two hospitals should survive.

"Together these organizations could offer a health care plan, a large physician network and community hospital relationships," said Ellen Lutch Bender, president of the health care consulting firm Bender Strategies. "This could be a positive move for lower cost health care."

Health Policy Commission Chairman Stuart Altman, whose board would review the merger if it is proposed, said at first glance, it seems promising.

"Both of these hospitals are high quality and lower cost," Altman said. "To the extent their merger would bring efficiencies and savings, the Massachusetts health care system would benefit."

Altman stresses that the commission would conduct an independent assessment, using the same criteria it has for other hospital mergers and affiliations. Altman served on the board at Tufts Medical Center but resigned two years ago to chair the commission.

Uniting Tufts and BMC would be a significant change in the hospital market, but it's one of several possible major changes in the works. Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders is still weighing whether to approve a deal that would let Partners HealthCare acquire three, possibly four, more hospitals. Analysts are watching to see if Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health resume talks. And they anticipate more changes in the makeup of the state's largest for-profit hospital network, Steward Health Care.

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



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