Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has agreed to combine its adult patient-care and research operations with prominent competing programs at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital.
In the process, Dana-Farber will cease to be an inpatient facility and instead transfer its 57 licensed beds to adjacent Brigham and Women's. The other Boston hospitals will retain their existing inpatient treatment capacity.
The agreement is a merger of programs through a joint-venture corporation and not a merger of institutions. The medical oncology programs of all three hospitals will be unified under one chief physician, with common clinical trials and medical protocols, said B.D. Colen, a Dana-Farber spokesman.
The arrangement between Dana-Farber and Partners HealthCare System, parent organization of Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women's, will consolidate cancer facilities and programs instead of interspersing smaller medical programs of the Harvard Medical School affiliates throughout Boston.
"We don't need to have (for example) bone marrow transplantation units at Dana-Farber and at Brigham, which is literally across the alley," Colen said.
The consolidation of the three programs also brings a critical mass to research in which oncology specialists "can conduct trials without going far and wide looking for patients to participate in other institutions," he said. That will allow faster implementation and produce quicker results, which will make breakthroughs available sooner, he said.
But the joint program doesn't preclude each institution from maintaining clinical research and teaching affiliations with other Harvard teaching hospitals, said David Nathan, M.D., Dana-Farber president and also chief executive officer of the new organization, called Dana-Farber/ Partners Cancer Care.
Those institutions include Boston's Beth Israel Hospital and New England Deaconess Hospital, flagship of a competing regional healthcare system called Pathway Health Network.
As part of the consolidation, outpatient operations of Brigham and Women's will be moved to the Dana-Farber facility. Overall, the consolidation will result in a cancer treatment outpatient load that reached nearly 220,000 annual visits in 1994, evenly spread geographically between Massachusetts General and the Brigham/ Dana-Farber campuses, Colen said.
In 1994, the three facilities combined for nearly 15,000 inpatient admissions for cancer treatment: 2,400 at Dana-Farber, 4,900 at Brigham and Women's, and 7,300 at Massachusetts General.
The institutions said they still must work out management details and get approval from regulators including the state attorney general. Once the joint venture is completed, implementation of all program and facility consolidation will take at least a year, spokesmen said.