Hopkins, Bethesda hospital link up Move into D.C. targets managed-care plans

July 25, 1996|By Diana K. Sugg | Diana K. Sugg,SUN STAFF

As part of a strategy to dominate health care in the mid-Atlantic region, Johns Hopkins Medicine has affiliated with Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, creating a partnership that should make both more appealing to managed-care plans and patients in the Washington area.

The agreement announced yesterday calls for Hopkins and Suburban to launch projects together in populous Montgomery County, including an outpatient center similar to Hopkins' Greenspring model in Baltimore County.

In a twist, the two medical institutions also will collaborate with the National Institutes of Health's hospital, a first for the Bethesda research institution.

Physicians from NIH who typically treat people with rare illnesses would rotate through Suburban to broaden their experience. In turn, Suburban patients might be part of NIH clinical trials and Hopkins physicians would work at NIH.

An alliance between Hopkins, a major academic institution, and Suburban, a community hospital, would have been unlikely a decade ago. The same can be said of the NIH link. Although Suburban sits across the street from NIH, officials say they had little contact.

But old ways are fast disappearing as major changes rock the nation's health care system.

Just yesterday, two of New York's most prestigious teaching hospitals, Columbia University's Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital and Cornell University's New York Hospital, announced that they intend to merge.

Hospitals have been affiliating, merging and closing. National surveys have found that one in five community hospitals changed hands in 1995. Nearly half of those surveyed expected to be affiliated with other hospitals by 2000.

For Hopkins, the agreement is a major step in its strategy of securing and expanding its patient base. About 92 percent of its patients come from the mid-Atlantic region, including Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia.

"We can't simply sit in East Baltimore and expect these patients to come to us," said Dr. John D. Stobo, chairman and chief executive officer of Johns Hopkins HealthCare, which Hopkins established to create a regional, cradle-to-grave system of health care.

The HealthCare unit is a part of Hopkins Medicine, which also oversees the medical school and the Johns Hopkins Health System's two hospitals.

The Suburban deal gives Hopkins access to more patients and primary-care physicians, which in turn puts it in a better position to win contracts from large managed-care companies that view Baltimore and Washington as one area. Two other Baltimore-area hospital groups have sought such an advantage by linking up with Washington-area hospitals.

Hopkins attracts about 1,100 inpatients a year from Montgomery County and about 3,400 inpatients from the entire Washington area, said Terry S. Langbaum, director of hospital affiliations at the Johns Hopkins Health System. That is a tiny fraction of the 4.2 million people who live there.

Stobo described the new partnership as "more focused, more substantial" than Atlantic Health, the hospital alliance Hopkins already belongs to. That group is a loose network including Sinai Hospital and St. Joseph Medical Center.

For its part of the deal, Suburban gets to advertise Hopkins' prestigious name and access to its high-tech, specialty expertise.

"We think it's an opportunity to take Suburban to the next plateau," said Brian Grissler, president and chief executive of Suburban. The 392-bed hospital, which has been in the area for 50 years, is the designated shock trauma center for Montgomery County.

Despite the mutual benefits, Hopkins and Suburban also had to like each other.

At a dinner June 13, when about a dozen physicians and executives from both parties gathered to see how they got along, they found shared values.

Dr. John L. Cameron, who heads surgery at Hopkins, presented to one of Suburban's physicians a letter. It had been written in the early 1900s by the doctor's grandfather, a physician who had studied at Hopkins and wrote to Suburban for advice. Cameron said it signified a long-standing relationship.

"It's that kind of class that someone of Dr. Cameron's stature would dig out that letter," Grissler said. "That kind of vTC camaraderie and good feeling is a great basis to start the relationship."

The two hospitals will share their physician networks, so Suburban doctors will be able to refer to Hopkins for complicated illnesses or high-tech treatments. Hopkins employees who belong to the Employee Health Plan and live in the Washington area will be able to use Suburban.

The hospitals have formed a joint business development company to explore ventures, including an ambulatory-care satellite center. Grissler said they are looking at a site near Montgomery Mall, which would be anchored by an outpatient surgery center. Most of the physicians would be from Suburban, Langbaum said, but Hopkins would provide physicians in specialties that Suburban lacks.

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