New England Baptist Hospital, one of the nation’s top destinations for orthopedics, is planning to leave its sprawling campus on a prime location atop Mission Hill, where it has been treating patients for 119 years.
Hospital officials said it could take as long as a decade to relocate, possibly to a location on or near the campus of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the Harvard-affiliated teaching hospital about a mile away. The two hospitals signed a partnership agreement last year.
Officials say the hospital’s finances are sound, but that the more than century-old campus is showing signs of wear and the Baptist cannot afford the renovations needed to update its Mission Hill facilities.
“To renovate our current facility would be cost-prohibitive,” Baptist spokeswoman Lisa Rand said. “A new Boston facility will need to be developed, as our current campus will not meet our future patient care needs.”
When it comes, the move will signal a new era for the Baptist, which has carved a niche for itself as a stand-alone institution specializing in a narrow field of medicine while many other hospitals in the region have combined to form medical complexes that treat every kind of illness.
Patients with aching hips and worn-out knees have been flocking to the Baptist as its reputation for providing top-shelf orthopedic care has grown nationally during the past several years. Since 2010, the 118-bed hospital has focused exclusively on orthopedic care, including joint replacements and sports injuries.
The hospital, which employs about 1,400, prides itself on service and has high satisfaction rates among patients. It is often noted for successfully treating athletes and celebrities, including a young US Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who suffered a spine injury in a horrific plane crash in 1964, and former Celtic great Larry Bird, who had several surgeries for a bad back.
“It’s a very special place. It’s really a family,” said Dr. Michael C. Kearney, a urologist who has treated patients at the Baptist for 13 years. “As long as the New England Baptist retains its leadership and retains its independence, it will retain its special culture,” he said.
The hospital also sits on a gold mine in its 19-acre campus on one of the city’s highest points. Relocating would not only yield a huge payday from the sale of that land, but make it easier for Baptist to develop the modern facilities it needs.
“When you have an old facility and you’re trying to work in a modern era when people care about efficiency and collaboration, it can be very difficult to remodel your old quarters,” said David E. Williams, president of the Boston consulting firm Health Business Group. “It makes sense for them to at least contemplate moving.”
Baptist occupies seven buildings on Mission Hill, on a campus valued by the city of Boston at about $170 million. The hospital’s relocation would shake up the landscape of a neighborhood that thousands of families and college students call home, and certainly draw intense interest from property developers.
Meanwhile, in Mission Hill longtime residents are already worried about how Baptist’s departure will affect a neighborhood where rising rents and property values have squeezed out lower- and middle-income families.
“We have to figure out a way this doesn’t damage the neighborhood irreparably,” said Richard Giordano, a neighborhood activist and 25-year Mission Hill resident. “They need to maximize the sale value, and maximizing the sale value doesn’t necessarily mean something that’s good for the neighborhood. It could be a real estate trust that could build 1,000 luxury apartments up there. It could be a college dormitory.”
City Councilor Josh Zakim said the city should create an advisory group of residents and elected officials to discuss what kind of development should take the place of the Baptist.
“It’s important the community has a say,” said Zakim, who represents Mission Hill. “We have a few years’ notice to do this. It’s incumbent on us to play a role in advising what happens there.”
Hospital officials and their neighbors in Mission Hill have clashed in the past, but the relationship has improved in recent years.
“The Baptist has been a great institutional neighbor,” Zakim added. “They’ve played a real role in community benefits, summer jobs for kids, extra snow plowing — folks are really going to be concerned about losing that.”
Hospital operators across the nation are under pressure to control costs while delivering high-quality care. In Massachusetts, several community hospitals have merged or affiliated with the state’s big health systems — Partners HealthCare, Steward Health Care System, Beth Israel Deaconess, and Lahey Health. Bigger networks that offer a full suite of medical services, hospital executives argue, give them more clout in the marketplace and the opportunity to deliver more efficient care.
Baptist leaders expect demand for orthopedic services to grow in the coming years as the population ages. And though Baptist has a strong brand, the hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center last February said they would pursue a partnership to develop a national destination for orthopedic care. The details of that deal are still being worked out.
Beth Israel Deaconess is in the midst of reviewing its own aging campus in the Longwood Medical Area. Hospital officials expect they will need new facilities to accommodate growth, and that construction may include a new home for the Baptist.
“That’s very much part of the planning process,” Beth Israel Deaconess spokesman Jerry Berger said.
The two hospitals have a history: They both belong to CareGroup, which launched in 1996 as a broad hospital and physician network that also included Mount Auburn Hospital. The network eventually dissolved but CareGroup still exists as a bond-holding company.
Ellen Lutch Bender, president of the health care consulting firm Bender Strategies LLC, predicted the Baptist will be able to maintain its identity even if it leaves its longtime home.
“The brand and the excellence of New England Baptist Hospital will travel wherever they end up being,” Bender said. “The culture of the organization is larger than bricks and mortar.”
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