When Virtua announced its new alliance with Penn Medicine, its president and CEO Rich Miller said he was looking specifically for a local partner to provide cancer and neuroscience services.
“When selecting a partner, we wanted one local, committed to our region, and known and preferred by our patients,” Miller said.
That’s in contrast with Virtua rival Cooper University Health Care, which took a different path two years ago in choosing its own partner for cancer care, looking all the way to Houston, Texas, to team up with MD Anderson Cancer Center.
But both deals reflect the growing importance for New Jersey hospitals of building partnerships with renowned out-of-state brands.
The partnerships raise the profiles of local healthcare systems while potentially enticing patients who might have crossed the Delaware or Hudson rivers – or flown halfway across the country — to seek treatment close to home.
Miller said Virtua began looking for a new partner because a previous agreement with Philadelphia-based Fox Chase Cancer Center was set to expire this summer.
Virtua — South Jersey’s largest healthcare system, with hospitals in Evesham, Mount Holly and Voorhees — was also looking for a more extensive alliance, which Miller said the Penn Medicine deal achieves..
Doctors from the University of Pennsylvania Health System will be providing services at Virtua’s hospitals.
In response to a question about whether the partnership will make Virtua more competitive, Miller said that he primarily saw the arrangement as way for Virtua to become “more well-rounded.” The inclusion of neuroscience in the alliance also allows Virtua to expand its offerings to patients with neurological conditions.
Virtua already has a similar deal with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which provides emergency and intensive-care doctors in Virtua facilities. Now it will have Penn Medicine surgeons at its sites, and will be able to enroll Virtua patients in clinical trials being conducted in connection with the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Penn Medicine includes both the medical school and the university’s health system.
“It kind of completes the service model in a good way for us,” Miller said.
Miller said the number of cancer patients treated by Virtua has remained stable since the MD Anderson Cancer Treatment Center at Cooper opened in 2013.
“Cooper and MD Anderson have done a good job in promoting their cancer program,” Miller said, adding that the end of the Fox Chase partnership – and Penn’s interest in expanding in New Jersey – drove the creation of the alliance.
North Jersey hospitals have their own (cross-state) partnerships, including the Valley Health System’s agreement with Mount Sinai Health System to work together on clinical programs, and Barnabas Health’s strategic partnership with North Shore-LIJ Health System aimed at building joint projects.
University of Pennsylvania Health System CEO Ralph W. Muller said the alliance allows the partners to offer South Jersey patients who want to be close to their homes “new options to fit together the best plan of care through facilities in both of our health systems.” Last year, nearly 4,000 people were diagnosed with cancer at Virtua.
Other partnerships rely less on direct sharing of personnel and more on sharing methods and technology. In the case of MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper], Cooper doctors use the same treatment protocols, advanced technology, and research as those employed at the nationally top-ranked hospital in Texas.
While representatives of both Cooper and Virtua downplayed the importance of competition in the choice of their out-of-state partners, the two systems have one of the most intense rivalries in the state.
Just this year, Cooper and Virtua have sparred over which system would provide advanced life support (ALS) paramedic services in Camden – Gov. Chris Christie signed a law that allows Cooper to take over ALS in the city after decades of operation by Virtua.
And Horizon’s new OMNIA Health Alliance potentially also benefits Cooper at the expense of Virtua, since it’s the only hospital in all of Burlington and Camden counties included in the lower-cost OMNIA Tier 1.