Partnership talks between Wayne State University and Henry Ford Health System, two Detroit institutions, have reached a critical phase and a letter of intent to form a collaborative agreement dubbed Project Leapfrog could be signed in the coming weeks, Crain's has learned.
For more than 18 months, top executives at Henry Ford and Wayne State have explored a variety of affiliation models with a Chicago-based consultant, Navigant Consulting.
The discussions have the potential of bringing Henry Ford a prominent medical school partnership, remaking the downtown Detroit health care landscape and disrupting fractious talks between Wayne State and its longtime partner, Detroit Medical Center.
Three of the stated goals of Henry Ford and Wayne State are to rival Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan's health enterprise in Ann Arbor; to "leapfrog" eight-hospital Beaumont Health in Royal Oak, which has a medical school but has a much smaller employed medical group and no health insurance arm; and to create a tightly integrated clinical, teaching and research organization to serve patients, doctors and students.
The Wayne State-Henry Ford affiliation would include combining 1,530 physicians into a single medical group, offering pediatric and adult clinical services and combining research, medical student and residency teaching programs.
The subject of the talks was revealed in hundreds of pages of documents, reports and emails obtained by Crain's in a Freedom of Information Act request to Wayne State, a public university subject to state open records laws.
Wayne State provided limited interviews to Crain's to explain the documents. Henry Ford, as a private nonprofit hospital system, declined interviews but provided a statement. More than a dozen other people with knowledge about the potential affiliation were interviewed.
"We share a common vision with Wayne State University that the overall health and wellness of our community depends on a strong commitment to medical education, research and clinical innovation," John Popovich, M.D., CEO of Henry Ford Hospital, said in a statement to Crain's. "That shared vision has been the basis of the successful collaboration between our institutions and created a mutual desire to advance and deepen that relationship."
Talks have included Popovich and more than a dozen other executives and physicians such as Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson, M.D., and Henry Ford CEO Wright Lassiter III. The executives hope the negotiations will lead to an exclusive agreement that would create a range of opportunities for Wayne State's 18 clinical and academic departments and for Henry Ford's six hospitals and 28 outpatient medical centers.
One of the affiliation documents estimates the Project Leapfrog agreement could generate as much as $200 million overall for Wayne and Henry Ford in additional clinical hospital and physician billings, enhanced Medicaid payments and additional graduate medical education funding.
The options under discussion include merging the university's 330-physician faculty practice plan into 1,200-physician Henry Ford Medical Group and creating a new and tightly integrated pediatric department among Henry Ford's 80 primary pediatricians in 20 practice locations in Detroit and Jackson and Wayne State's 130 specialist and generalist pediatricians.
Wayne State doctors could maintain their own offices, although some are expected to move over time to Henry Ford or new locations. Wayne doctors also would be integrated into Henry Ford's integrated care continuum, benefiting from cross-referrals from Henry Ford's primary care doctors.
They would continue to see patients at the medical group's Troy-based outpatient surgery and diagnostic center. It is possible that Wayne's Troy outpatient center could be consolidated with a Henry Ford medical center, affiliation documents show.
Longer-range plans in a 2025 vision statement of what might be possible could include building a "Wayne State University Health Sciences Quad at Henry Ford" across from Henry Ford Hospital on West Grand Boulevard in Midtown. Adjacent to the proposed health sciences building is the $155 million Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion, a six-story outpatient cancer center, that is undergoing construction. Henry Ford owns 300 acres south of its flagship hospital and has strategic plans for a $500 million south campus health and community project.
The 2025 vision also includes potentially a jointly funded second clinical research building, adjacent to Wayne State's Integrated Research Building, iBio, which is also located near Henry Ford's corporate headquarters, One Ford Place. It would be called "iBio2."
Affiliation discussions, which have picked up speed the past several months and have led to nearly 25 draft letters of intent, also could include building a new public health school for Wayne State that would be "attuned to the Detroit community's unique needs and leverages its diverse population."
Price tags for the new health sciences, iBio2 and public health school were not included. In fact, none of the documents had any capital or operational costs for the buildings, or new institutes that include neurosciences, oncology, perinatology, pediatrics and eye care that could be part of the affiliation.