Norton Healthcare and the University of Louisville have taken the first steps to building pediatric programs together after ending a five-year war over Norton Children's Hospital in Louisville in late 2015.
The organizations have created the Norton Children's Cancer Institute to combine the university's research and advanced clinical trials with Norton's leading presence in children's and adult cancer care in the region, the sides announced Monday.
The agreement formalizes a clinical and teaching relationship between the university and children's hospital that stretches for decades, said Dr. Charles Woods, interim chair of University of Louisville's Department of Pediatrics.
The university and Norton, a five-hospital system based in Louisville, are mending relations just as the University of Louisville Hospital is dissolving its joint operating agreement with Norton's crosstown rival, KentuckyOne Health.
The new children's cancer institute is forming joint committees to provide improved access and additional services for children fighting cancer, including new programs for treating rare tumors and benign blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia, Woods said. The institute also plans to revamp a bone marrow transplant program, he said.
University faculty and residents have worked side-by-side with Norton physicians since the 1920s at Norton's downtown children's hospital, Woods said.
For cancer, university physicians have handled such disciplines as pediatric oncology and pulmonary care, while Norton physicians have provided radiology and radiation oncology services, said Tom Kmetz, president of Norton Children's Hospital and divisional president of Norton's Women's and Children's Services.
But the parent organizations have not always seen eye-to-eye.
The two sides fought for years, and spent the last two in litigation, over Norton's 2013 decision to partner with University of Kentucky HealthCare to jointly operate the children's hospital and Kentucky Children's Hospital in Lexington. Though Norton built the Louisville children's hospital, a land lease specified the hospital be operated partly for the benefit of the university.
The dispute was finally resolved in December 2015, with Norton extending annual academic support to the university at $30 million for eight years and pledging $3 million more annually for other pediatric care investments.
Woods said he envisioned Norton's strong adult cancer program assisting children at the new institute and vice versa. Some adolescents and young adults respond better to pediatric cancer treatments than adult ones, he said.
Kmetz said Norton's adult cancer program, known as the Norton Cancer Institute, makes about 4,000 adult cancer diagnoses annually, as well as 80 to 100 children's diagnoses.
The system has developed an infrastructure for enrolling adults in cancer trials and other treatments that could help with children's cases as well, he said. "We need each other," Woods said.
Norton's strengthening ties with the university come at a time when the university is separating from KentuckyOne.
The University of Louisville Hospital and KentuckyOne announced in December that they are terminating a troubled joint operating agreement that has seen KentuckyOne manage the academic medical center and the accompanying James Graham Brown Cancer Center for the past four years.
The agreement is scheduled to dissolve on July 1, at which time management of the hospital and the cancer center will revert back to the University Medical Center, said hospital spokesman Gary Mans.
In October, the University of Louisville accused KentuckyOne in a letter of breaching its commitments by failing to make about $17 million in promised program improvements and falling $29 million behind in making capital improvements to the facilities.
KentuckyOne is an operating unit of not-for-profit hospital chain, Catholic Health Initiatives.