Systems set up cancer network

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A new collaboration initiative soon will give West Michigan patients broader access to cancer care services.

The Cancer Network of West Michigan, a joint venture between Mercy Health and Metro Health-University of Michigan Health, will combine resources with Michigan Medicine, the academic medical center of the University of Michigan. 

The goal is to establish a continuity of service across all three of the hospitals, allowing patients to seamlessly transition between one another.

The collaboration addresses the growing needs of West Michigan by expanding expertise and access to an extent that none of the organizations could achieve alone, the partners said. The connection to Michigan Medicine ultimately will provide local community hospitals with a direct tie to advanced clinical trials, emerging protocols and health researchers. In the future, patients will access that expertise through their local physicians at Mercy Health and Metro Health.

“Cancer is one of the most complicated diseases to treat, and increasingly sophisticated treatments are available,” said Dr. Hyung Kim, president of Mercy Health Saint Mary’s.

Services will be offered across three facilities in West Michigan, including Lacks Cancer Center at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, Johnson Family Cancer Center at Mercy Health Muskegon and Metro Health.

“We want people to continue to get their cancer care with people and at places they have come to trust. As our collaboration grows, people will notice that they now have access to newer, broader and deeper resources made possible by the integration across this network,” said Dr. Clifford Cho, surgical oncologist for Michigan Medicine.

Combined, the three West Michigan facilities treat 13,658 cancer patients per year. The three systems have a combined 63 cancer specialists and subspecialists.

To help integrate cancer care across all three hospitals, physicians and clinical staff will be moving toward shared clinical protocols and collaborative tumor board meetings.

Direction and oversight for management of clinical services will be led by the Cancer Network executive director with guidance from the Cancer Network steering committee. A nationwide recruitment effort is underway to identify a candidate for the role. Cho will serve as interim executive director.

The parties are working to finalize the agreement over the next few weeks with an expected effective date of Jan. 1.

All hospital providers and staff will remain employed by their respective health systems, and no staff reductions will take place as a result of this agreement, the partners said. 

Nearly 40% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute, so the need for cancer treatment is increasing as the overall population ages.

Even as new treatments have reduced the mortality rate, the number of new cancer cases continues to increase as the population ages. The Centers for Disease Control predicts the number of new cases will have increased by 24% between 2010 and 2020.

The Cancer Network will build on a foundation established by a radiation oncology collaborative already in place between Michigan Medicine and the two health systems independently. Extending and integrating this cooperation across the three locations ensures cancer programs continue to grow to meet the needs of West Michigan.

The Cancer Network also builds on a larger statewide strategy between Michigan Medicine and Trinity Health-Michigan, Mercy Health’s parent company. The two organizations announced an affiliation agreement in 2012, paving the way for closer collaborations in clinical care, research and medical education.

In 2018, Trinity Health-owned Saint Joseph Mercy Health System and Michigan Medicine developed a joint venture at St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea hospital. Mercy Health and Michigan Medicine also have a professional services agreement in place for cardiovascular services at Mercy Health.

In addition, Trinity Health-Michigan and Michigan Medicine work together to enhance clinically integrated network delivery models and graduate medical education across the state.

Michigan Medicine and Metro Health-University of Michigan Health have been affiliated since 2016.

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