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The Boston Globe

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Beth Israel, Baptist team up on orthopedic care

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center said Wednesday it will work jointly with New England Baptist Hospital to provide orthopedic and musculoskeletal care, uniting two Boston hospitals from the moribund CareGroup Healthcare System at a time of rapid industry consolidation.

The two Boston hospitals said the partnership falls short of a merger and that they would continue to run independently.

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Their ultimate goal is to forge “one of the largest and most prominent orthopedic programs in the country,” said Kevin Tabb, president of Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess, which has been expanding its network of doctors and hospitals in a string of takeovers and affiliations.

In the short term, the two institutions will keep the orthopedic operations at their own hospitals. But they will increase their referrals to one another and work together to integrate and expand services – and promote the brand of New England Baptist, the region’s only orthopedic specialty hospital.

The two parties last winter opened talks about collaborating on clinical and community programs, but said from the start they would not merge.

New England Baptist chief executive Trish Hannon said her hospital, a leader in orthopedic surgery and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders – such as tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome — hopes to use its alliance with Beth Israel Deaconess “to grow a broader geographic network.”

As each hospital examines facility needs in coming years, and New England Baptist weighs what to do with its aging campus on Mission Hill, they will work to bring the joint venture into the planning, the executives said. But they stopped short of saying New England Baptist would abandon its current quarters and move into the Beth Israel Deaconess campus in the Longwood Medical Area.

“We do need to have a new facility within the next decade,” Hannon said.

The joint venture will undergo a preliminary review by the state Health Policy Commission, which monitors deals that could boost health care spending, but it is too soon to say whether it could trigger a broader “cost and market impact” inquiry by the commission’s staff. Tabb and Hannon said they had no plans in the near term to negotiate together with state health insurers.

“All hospitals are feeling it’s important to become part of a larger network,” said Ruselle W. Robinson, health care attorney for Boston law firm Posternak Blankstein & Lund. “That’s what you’re going to have to do going forward because patients are going to be concentrated in a system. A standalone system like the Baptist could have reduced access to patients over the long term.”

Beth Israel Deaconess and New England Baptist are members of CareGroup. That hospital and physicians network was formed in 1996 to compete with Boston’s Partners HealthCare System, an organization created in a merger of Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals.

But unlike the Partners hospitals, CareGroup members were unable to work out common administrative and clinical functions. It never formally dissolved, but exists primarily as a bond-holding organization.

One reason why Beth Israel Deaconess and Baptist did not integrate more tightly in the past was the reluctance of Beth Israel Deaconess to weaken its own orthopedic practice. In a letter to employees Wednesday, Tabb made clear there are still no plans to do so or to cut staff.

“Current operations in BIDMC Orthopedics will continue, including plans for expanded sports medicine services in the new BID HealthCare-Chestnut Hill location” he wrote. “New growth will be developed jointly under this partnership” with New England Baptist.

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

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