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MetroWest Medical Center, Beth Israel in talks

MetroWest Medical Center said Thursday it is negotiating a potential affiliation with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, an alliance that could deal a blow to MetroWest’s current academic partner, Tufts Medical Center.

MetroWest and Beth Israel Deaconess said in separate statements that they signed a non-binding letter of intent to explore ways to improve health care services west of Boston.

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They said MetroWest, which operates Framingham Union Hospital and Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick, is also talking with Beth Israel Deaconess about joining its fast-expanding accountable care organization — Beth Israel Deaconess Care Organization — to integrate clinical care with doctors affiliated with that group.

“We will collaborate in the months ahead to try to create a relationship that would enable MetroWest patients to receive high-quality care close to home, while having access to BIDMC’s specialists when they need them,” MetroWest’s statement said.

Jerry Berger, spokesman for Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston, said there is no timetable for the parties to complete discussions.

MetroWest, now owned by the Dallas-based, for-profit giant Tenet Healthcare Corp., had previously agreed to pursue a broad-based affiliation with Beth Israel Deaconess in 2009 when MetroWest was owned by another for-profit hospital company, Vanguard Health Systems.

But six months after that agreement was struck, MetroWest scrapped the plan. It later entered a clinical partnership with Tufts Medical Center, the teaching hospital of the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, focusing on pediatric care and a range of adult services.

In 2012, Tufts Medical Center said it was in talks to team up with Vanguard Health to buy independent hospitals and provide more integrated health care across Massachusetts. While the two explored some joint bids for community hospitals, none were successful. Then, last fall, Tenet acquired Vanguard — including its two MetroWest hospitals — for $1.8 billion.

MetroWest spokeswoman Teresa Prego said all of the hospitals’ affiliations remain in effect while it negotiates with Beth Israel Deaconess.

Tufts Medical Center, which last spring struck an alliance with Lowell General Hospital, sought to downplay the significance of MetroWest’s talks with Beth Israel Deaconess.

“Many health care organizations are discussing a variety of service affiliations that may or may not come to fruition,” Tufts said in a statement. “It is unclear what this particular non-binding [letter of intent] might cover if it were completed. MetroWest worked with Beth Israel several years ago and was dissatisfied with that relationship. They turned to Tufts Medical Center instead. Working with Metrowest, we have delivered advanced services to the community, including primary care, cardiology, urology, pediatrics, surgical services, GYN oncology, and others.”

The statement noted that doctors in the MetroWest Accountable Healthcare Organization recently signed a four-year contract extension with the Tufts physician network, New England Quality Care Alliance.

Robert Weisman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.
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