Mass General Brigham withdraws suburban expansion plan

Expansions at Mass General, Faulker hospitals clear major hurdle

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

MASS GENERAL BRIGHAM officials said Friday the hospital system has withdrawn its controversial proposal to build outpatient care centers in Woburn and Westborough and to expand an existing facility in Westwood after learning Department of Public Health staff would not recommend approval of the projects.

The DPH did, however, recommend that the Public Health Council, with conditions, partially approve a project at the main campus of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and approve a project at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital.

“We look forward to engaging with the Public Health Council and hope to receive their final approval of our plans to increase access to our world-renowned Boston teaching hospitals for patients who need the high-quality care they provide,” MGB President and CEO Dr. Anne Klibanski said in a statement.

Top officials from Mass. General and Faulkner hospitals said the expansions would ease capacity challenges in the system and better serve patients.

The trio of suburban ambulatory care centers, which MGB had described as a way to allow its existing patients in those areas to receive services closer to home and at a lower cost, were opposed by organizations banded together as the Coalition to Protect Community Care, including UMass Memorial Health, Wellforce, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, Health Care for All, and chambers of commerce representing Worcester, Marlborough, Stoneham, Medford and Melrose.

The coalition argued the plan would hurt the financial viability of local providers. The state’s Health Policy Commission in January told the Department of Health’s determination of need program that MGB’s expansion plans were likely to “[d]rive substantial patient volume and revenue to the higher-cost MGB system, particularly commercially insured volume, and likely away from other lower-cost providers.”

The HPC, which separately has directed MGB to implement a performance improvement plan aimed at controlling costs, said that MGB’s proposed $2.25 billion expansion — the two hospital projects and the ambulatory care centers — would increase commercial health care spending by up to $90.1 million a year.

MGB officials have disputed the commission’s findings, which differed from a December cost analysis conducted as part of the determination of need process. The December analysis projected the ambulatory care centers would result in a “small overall decrease” in health care spending.

“After learning from the Department of Public Health that our ambulatory proposal would not be recommended for approval, Mass General Brigham has withdrawn its proposal to build outpatient care centers in Woburn and Westborough and expand an existing center in Westwood,” Klibanski said. “Mass General Brigham remains dedicated to transforming care delivery so that our patients receive the right care in the right place at a lower cost. We will continue to honor our commitment to provide the best care to the 227,000 patients we currently serve at Mass General Brigham affected by the Department of Public Health’s decision.”

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Katie Lannan

State House News Service
The approval of the hospital expansion came with conditions. The DPH staff said they would not give advance approval for 94 beds at the expanded Mass General Hospital, but would allow the hospital to construct new buildings that could create single-bed units replacing double-bed rooms. The staff said Mass General Hospital could seek approval for additional beds later if it could demonstrate a need for the additional beds.

The Massachusetts Association of Health Plans last month urged the DPH to reject MGB’s pending applications “until such time that MGB addresses its underlying causes of cost growth and demonstrates a continued commitment to containing costs beginning with successfully implementing a PIP.”

The Public Health Council meets Wednesday, and the MGB determination of need reports are not on its agenda. The Department of Public Health has said the reports would be posted online 30 days before the applications are presented to the council, a time frame that lines up with its May 4 meeting date.