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Beth Israel, Baptist to discuss joint programs

Merger not part of plan; bid joins other unions

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center will be talking to New England Baptist Hospital about a range of joint clinical and community programs, but a merger is not in the works.

The two hospitals told employees Wednesday they signed a memorandum of understanding to explore potential collaborations.

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They did not specify which areas would be a focus, but New England Baptist is a leader in orthopedic surgery while Beth Israel Deaconess also has a strong orthopedics operation at its main campus in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area.

Their negotiations are the latest example of the consolidation wave, including mergers and affiliations, that has been engulfing the Massachusetts health care market.

They have been spurred in part by state and federal laws encouraging more integrated systems, as well as new insurance reimbursement models that give providers a fixed budget to handle patient care.

“This is indicative of the pressures being applied to everybody,” said Steven J. Tringale, president of Boston consulting firm Tringale Health Strategies.

“BI’s been relatively aggressive in the last few months. They’re looking to expand both their community base and their overall presence in the marketplace. Given the historic relationship, I’m not surprised by the Baptist piece. For the Baptist, this is about positioning their physician staff as well as the hospital.”

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In 1996, Beth Israel Deaconess joined with New England Baptist and Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge to form CareGroup Healthcare System. That hospital and physicians network was meant to compete with Boston’s Partners HealthCare System, the organization created through the merger of Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals.

But unlike the Partners hospitals, the members of CareGroup were unable to work out common administrative and clinical functions.

While talks to formally dissolve the group broke off in 2002, CareGroup exists today primarily as a joint bond-holding organization.

Given that Beth Israel Deaconess and New England Baptist and their doctors have had “longstanding relationships,” the upcoming round of negotiations is “a natural avenue for us to mutually explore,” Beth Israel Deaconess chief executive Kevin Tabb and Stuart Rosenberg, president of the Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at BIDMC, wrote in their e-mail.

“Over the next 90 (to) 120 days, senior teams representing our hospitals and physicians will be meeting to talk about possible collaborative opportunities,” Tabb and Rosenberg wrote. “While we are not talking about a merger, we are looking at a variety of ways to partner to benefit our patients and our communities. We are very excited about the possibilities of this partnership.”

In an e-mail to her staff, New England Baptist chief executive Trish Hannon said the hospital’s “strategic plan includes building several important partnerships that will foster the growth of the Baptist as the premier provider of musculoskeletal care throughout New England.”

Hannon stressed that the Mission Hill hospital is “NOT exploring a merger of any kind, and we will continue to develop our current partnerships with our key private practice physician groups throughout the Commonwealth. Our future is very bright as a specialty network of orthopedic and musculoskeletal experts and any collaborative efforts will be focused on building upon this set of strengths.”

Tabb and Hannon both declined to discuss the negotiations Wednesday.

Beth Israel Deaconess has recently expanded its ties with other health care organizations. Last month, the hospital said it plans to buy Jordan Health Systems Inc., the parent of 155-bed Jordan Hospital in Plymouth. It also said it was launching a new kind of “accountable care organization” that would include not only employed and affiliated doctors but independent community doctors and hospitals Beth Israel Deaconess doesn’t wholly own.

If the Jordan deal closes, it would strengthen the Beth Israel Deaconess network, which includes its own physicians group as well as Atrius Health, a Newton-based alliance of doctors groups such as Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates.

Beth Israel Deaconess also has a clinical affiliation with Hebrew SeniorLife and is negotiating affiliations with Cambridge Health Alliance and Signature Healthcare in Brockton, which operates the 253-bed Brockton Hospital.

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman @globe.com.

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