Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. entered the New England market last week by agreeing to invest in a 500-bed hospital in suburban Boston in return for an as-yet-undetermined stake in the business.
MetroWest Medical Center, with campuses in Framingham, Mass., and Natick, Mass., will iron out a definitive agreement with Nashville, Tenn.-based Columbia in the next 60 to 90 days.
Though the nature of that agreement hasn't been decided, MetroWest will be given final say on whether it ends up as a joint venture or an outright sale to Columbia, said Metro-West spokeswoman Alexis Ladd.
As in other agreements struck with not-for-profit hospitals during the past two years, Columbia pledged to set up a foundation to support unmet healthcare needs in a service area of about 500,000 residents.
Columbia Vice Chairman Thomas F. Frist Jr. said the agreement allows MetroWest Medical Center to enhance its network of healthcare services "and provides Columbia with a base from which to build a comprehensive network in Massachusetts and New England."
The for-profit chain thus joins a competitive fray in Massachusetts spurred by a recently deregulated healthcare business climate, a managed-care penetration of more than 40% and the sprouting of health networks radiating from prominent teaching facilities such as Massachusetts General Hospital, New England Deaconess Hospital and Boston University Medical Center.
MetroWest's location also puts Columbia midway between Boston, the hub of healthcare and academic medicine in Massachusetts, and Worcester, the state's second-largest healthcare market and home to Fallon Health Care System's 300-physician multispecialty medical group and 400-bed St. Vincent's Hospital.
A year ago, MetroWest encountered community friction arising from the decision in 1992 to form the two-campus hospital by merging Framingham (Mass.) Union Hospital and Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick. But a new chief executive officer, Lawrence Kaplan, M.D., has earned high marks for his handling of the merger concerns.