Med School confirmed as academic partner in Partners-CNE merger

The University formally announced in a Dec. 17 press release that the Alpert Medical School will be the primary academic research and teaching institution for the proposed affiliation between Care New England and Brigham Health.

The announcement comes almost 11 months after CNE, based in Providence, and Partners HealthCare, the Boston-based parent company to Brigham Health, agreed to merge. The arrangement initially raised questions about the University’s place in Rhode Island’s healthcare system, The Herald previously reported.

Last summer, CNE, Partners and the University signed a memorandum of understanding, which confirmed the Med School’s role in the merger in an effort to keep specialty care and research in-state, The Herald previously reported.

“The agreement assures everyone that students at (the Med School) will continue to be able to do their clinical training at sites that are part of the Care New England Health System for the foreseeable future,” wrote Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Jack Elias in an email to The Herald.

Several of the Med School’s programs operate out of the CNE-owned Women & Infants, Butler and Kent Hospitals. For instance, the Med School’s programs in obstetrics and gynecology and neonatology are housed in Women & Infants, and its programs in psychiatry and family medicine are located at Butler and Kent, respectively.

Placing the Med School as the primary academic partner of the affiliation ultimately ensures that CNE institutions will “continue to see Brown as their principal academic partner when it comes to things like residency programs and research,” said Nephrologist and Professor of Medicine at the Med School Andrew Cohen.

As part of the agreement, the University’s president will also become a voting member of CNE’s Board of Directors, and the dean of the Med School will sit on any academic and research subcommittees of the board.

The University’s formal announcement arrived as Partners and Brigham Health filed an application with Rhode Island’s attorney general and Department of Health to seek approval for Brigham Health’s acquisition of CNE.

The Federal Trade Commission has decided not to challenge the merger, and Partners’ Chief Financial Officer Peter Markell anticipates a decision from Rhode Island by April, WPRI reported.

University administrators at first expressed concerns about the merger, arguing that it could lead to reduced resources for in-state research and other programs.

But the University later decided to work with Partners and CNE and now sees multiple benefits to the affiliation including the “the preservation (of) and … opportunities to enhance — the quality of medical education for Brown medical students at existing and future CNE facilities,” wrote Director of News and Editorial Development Brian Clark in an email to The Herald.

The University will also have opportunities “to interact in a synergistic manner with the Partners Health System and Care New England to improve local clinical care, research and teaching,” Elias wrote.

The agreement mentions areas where that interaction can take place, and discussions concerning possible collaborations between the University and the affiliation will start soon, Elias said.

Clark wrote of an expanded ability “to attract biomedical research support” through the interactions between the Med School and the affiliation as one expected benefit.

But the Partners-CNE merger could still threaten the affordability of health care in Rhode Island, as a  state-commissioned study found in February. CNE’s “financial distress” makes it likely that any party acquiring the system would look to increase revenue, leading to some degree of increase in health care costs, the study noted.

In addition, certain cases might move outside the state as a result of the merger. “It’s reasonable to assume that there will still be transfers from one Partners hospital to another … for highly specialized care,” such as from Kent to Massachusetts General Hospital, Cohen said. “In that regard, I think that’s not a good thing for Rhode Island, but that’s sort of an inevitable consequence of this.”

As Partners and Brigham Health continue through the regulatory approval process for their affiliation with CNE, the University will “continue to discuss details,” Clark wrote. In the meantime, the Med School’s clinical programs at CNE facilities will continue normal operations.

“It’s taken a long time to get where we are, but we’re reasonably happy with where we are and we think that our partners are reasonably happy, too,” Elias said.

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