Rebounding from the April breakup of its 50-year relationship with the Baylor College of Medicine, the Methodist Hospital in Houston is entering into a long-distance affiliation with Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.
Methodist will continue its commitment to Baylor residents for the next four years, said Methodist spokeswoman Stephanie Asin.
What will happen next year as new residency slots open and with clinical training of Weill medical school students is undetermined thus far, said Antonio Gotto, M.D., dean of Weill Cornell Medical College. New York-Presbyterian, also affiliated with the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, has more than 1,000 residency slots, compared with 215 at Methodist.
"I do see the likelihood of joint programs," Gotto said, adding that since the clinical leaders of the programs at all three institutions have not had a chance to meet and discuss the future partnership, "it would be premature to speculate" what the joint programs might be.
As part of the 30-year agreement with Weill, physicians at Methodist can choose to have faculty appointments at the medical college, said Gotto, who was the human bridge between Houston and New York.
Gotto served as chairman of the department of internal medicine at Baylor from 1977 to 1996 and concurrently was chief of internal medicine at Methodist. He hired on at Weill Cornell in January 1997. Gotto said he wouldn't tell who made the first phone call, but he said there were no discussions between anyone at Weill Cornell and Methodist before the breakup.
"I was hoping Baylor and Methodist would work things out," Gotto said. But once the split was announced, "the discussions took place over a short period of time."
Gotto said the distance between Houston and New York has prompted the same reaction as he faced when the medical school opened a branch campus two years ago in Doha, Qatar.
"People asked the same thing then: 'How are you going to pull this off?'"
"Obviously, it's an experiment," Gotto said. But he predicts the experience bridging the 7,000 miles from New York to Qatar will provide communication models for this new relationship with Methodist, a mere 1,600 miles away.
The Qatar school offers the first two years of pre-med training in a six-year program. Cornell professor James Maas's course in psychology, beamed from Ithaca, N.Y, to students in Doha, has made him "the most popular professor in Qatar," Gotto said. "He's like a rock star there.
"We're committed to the globalization of medicine, so there is no reason it shouldn't work across state lines," he said
In addition to medical training, Gotto said he envisions collaborations between New York and Houston on research programs, in patient recruitment for clinical trials, in grant applications and in quality-improvement projects.
Baylor, meanwhile, appears to be accepting its new "neighbors" graciously.
"We welcome our colleagues from New York to the Texas Medical Center," said Baylor President and CEO Peter Traber, M.D. "It is a positive move to have the focus of these excellent institutions in Houston."
The announcement, made Wednesday, comes in the wake of months of turmoil in Houston over the disaffiliation of Methodist with Baylor, which announced in April it had entered into a 50-year agreement with two-hospital St. Luke's Episcopal Health System.
In the run-up to the breakup, Traber said Methodist opposed Baylor's wish to build an ambulatory-care center.
Baylor, meanwhile, had rejected Methodist's proposal for a renewed affiliation agreement that included a new office building, expanded programs and a financial commitment of up to $75 million for the first year.
Methodist in January announced a $370 million expansion plan that includes a new ambulatory clinic. (See "Methodist, Baylor College of Medicine break up," MP Stat, April 22, 2004 [purchase required].)
On June 14, Methodist announced it would create a corporation, operational by July 1, that will employ physicians and that department heads at Methodist would have to choose which side they are on.
If they stayed as leaders at Methodist and joined the new physicians corporation (hospitals are prohibited under Texas law from employing physicians), they could not continue to practice at St. Luke's.
That day, according to a report in the Houston Chronicle, Methodist's top surgeon, F. Charles Brunicardi, M.D., resigned as chief of surgery, though he said he would continue to see patients at Methodist.
Brunicardi did not return a phone call today requesting comment. Instead, the public relations department at Baylor sent his prepared statement.
In it Brunicardi said, "I am dedicated to Baylor College of Medicine and to serving as chair of the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery. I strongly support the great vision of the school to create a new model of healthcare, which will take Baylor to the next level of excellence in academic medicine."
A Methodist spokesperson said she was unaware of how many of the 20 or so physician leaders at Methodist affected by the policy change might leave but would have a better number after July 1.