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Baystate, Noble Craft Plans to Affiliate

After years of thinking and talking about it, Noble Health System and Baystate Health have entered into an agreement that could lead to a formal affiliation. Administrators are optimistic about the plan, which could bring new services and capital to the Greater Westfield region.

Baystate Noble Hospital.

That name could become part of the regional health care landscape by this fall, following an agreement between Baystate Health and Noble Hospital in Westfield to formally explore affiliation of the two entities.

The Boards of Trustees from both Noble Health Systems and Baystate Health voted on June 13 to approve a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to affiliate. The MOU approval will allow the two entities to enter into a period of due diligence, during which all aspects of the new relationship – from capital improvements to services to staffing – will be explored.

According to George Koller, president and CEO of Noble Health Systems, which serves as an umbrella for Noble Hospital, the Noble Health Alliance, the Noble VNA and Hospice, Westfield Medical Corp., and the Silvermill Realty Corp., the period of due diligence will last approximately four to five months. At the close of that period and following the attainment of necessary state and regulatory approvals, Baystate Health and Noble Hospital are expected to sign a formal affiliation agreement.

Koller told BusinessWest that the prospect of affiliating with Baystate Health has been a very real one for some time, and the success of some recent initiatives between the two health systems further bolstered the idea of a formal affiliation.

“Discussion regarding this partnership with Baystate began more than six years ago,” said Koller, noting that the idea had been considered even prior to that point. “In our most recent strategic planning process, which started last August, we spent some time looking in particular at developing new relationships with Baystate. We zeroed in on the fact that partnering with Baystate on a more serious level would be essential for Noble moving forward.”

Go West

In terms of Baystate Health’s interest in affiliating with Noble, Mark Tolosky, president and CEO of Baystate Health, said the system’s priority is to act in the best interest of patients, partners, and communities to ensure the future of quality health care throughout Western Mass.

“Combining hospital services and resources furthers the charitable mission to the communities we serve,” he said, “and provides benefits that include furthering our joint missions to provide quality health care, and providing a physical presence for Baystate in Westfield; one that is sought by the residents of the area.”

Tolosky explained that through market research conducted by both Noble Hospital and Baystate Health, the health systems were able to identify strong brand recognition of the Baystate Health name and logo, further bolstering the notion of viability of a Baystate affiliate in the Greater Westfield region.

“Through updated market research, we found that brand recognition of the Baystate name is stronger than ever before in the area,” he said, adding that solidifying the positive referral relationship between the Baystate system and Noble Hospital, and providing economies of scale for the health system’s resources and services, are also key objectives of the system in entering the partnership.

“We’ve been on very good terms with Noble Hospital for close to 14 years,” he said. “We’ve enjoyed excellent referral business and very positive physician-to-physician relationships. As we enter this period of due diligence, what we’re looking for is simply a win-win: we’ll continue to look at the market and at products and services that will translate into good business practices that make sense for Baystate and for Noble, and will also be cost-effective and consistent with our missions.”

Koller added that he expects affiliating with Baystate will be a largely positive change for Noble. He cited capital improvements and the availability of a greater number of specialty services among the most important changes that could come to the facility.

Currently, Noble partners with Baystate Health on two specific initiatives in women’s health and emergency medicine. One contract allows area women to receive outpatient primary care at Noble’s Women’s Center OB/GYN practice, while still delivering their babies at the birthing center at Wesson Women and Infants’ Unit at Baystate Medical Center, while a second allows Baystate residents to complete a portion of their training with Noble physicians in the emergency department.

Noble also currently partners with UMass Memorial Medical Center, however there is no word as to what role UMass could play in the coming months, if any.

“Because of their interest in Noble, Baystate Health brings a number of new, beneficial things to the Westfield community,” Koller said. “With a formal affiliation, we will have access to capital markets that we currently don’t have access to, and that will lead to new capital equipment and enhanced technology, ranging from new CT, MRI, and PET scanners to a new EMR (Electronic Medical Records) system. These are things that we’ve been moving toward slowly on our own, because we have to. Now, these development will be in place much sooner.”

Noble Concept

Koller said that the addition of new subspecialty programs and clinics will also have a marked effect on Noble’s roster of community-oriented services.

“These are things that the community could benefit from several times a week,” he said, explaining that while no specific needs for programming have been identified, he’s hopeful that a long list of new services will be mulled in the coming months. “What we’ll be adding is not defined yet, but there is essentially an alphabetical list that we’re looking at, which will also be a large part of the process of developing our medical staff.”

While specifics have yet to be nailed down, however, Tolosky noted that as plans move forward, a few general concerns will be kept at the forefront of discussions, among them the potential for new services and an ongoing focus on providing high-quality care closer to home.

“We believe very strongly in regional, integrated systems of care,” he said, “and all of our business decisions will be made with that in mind, as well as the understanding of how complex the health care environment has become. Sometimes, people still think of small community hospitals as quiet nonprofits, but they still need very clear, standard business practices in place to survive.”

Baystate Health currently includes Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, Baystate Mary Lane Hospital in Ware, and Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, the largest acute care hospital in western New England. If the move to affiliate is still deemed viable by the board of trustees of both health systems, Koller said a definitive agreement will be signed with Baystate that will necessitate Noble’s name change to Baystate Noble.

That progression is contingent upon not only state approval and the completion of a determination of need by the Department of Public Health, Koller noted, but also on the findings of a comprehensive study of operations, staffing, administration, and capital needs, to be completed at Noble.

“These things are going to move pretty quickly,” Koller said. “At this point, we’re not aware of any staffing or administrative changes, but those are two things that we’re going to be looking at very closely through this period.”

Koller added that he’s hopeful the trial period Baystate and Noble have entered will lead to affiliation smoothly and quickly.

“I’m really excited. We always want to be on the cutting edge of medicine, and now I think we’ll be busier providing services we have not before. Whenever we’ve conducted community surveys, this area has always rated Baystate Health’s services extremely high. Bringing Baystate to us will be a great thing for this community.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]