New Sloan-Kettering alliance includes Backus

Hartford HealthCare, the network that includes The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, has joined a new partnership with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center that the institutions say will transform community cancer care.

The new partnership was announced Tuesday, the day before Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London's opening ceremonies for its new cancer center in Waterford, an affiliation with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The Hartford HealthCare-Memorial Sloan-Kettering partnership comes after a year of discussions between the two parties that will bring the clinical and research prowess of the prestigious New York-based institution to the network of seven Connecticut hospitals and related medical facilities.

"For more than a century, Memorial Sloan-Kettering has delivered exceptional cancer care and generated the discoveries necessary to develop effective new treatments. Today, we recognize the need to do more," Dr. Craig Thompson, president and chief executive officer of Memorial Sloan-Kettering, said in a joint news release from the two institutions. "We are looking to create a new model to address the fundamental challenge of providing high-quality cancer care in a wider population of patients."

Dr. James O'Dea, vice president at Backus in charge of cancer services, said the alliance will mean that Backus cancer patients will have access to the advanced treatments, research and clinical trials at Sloan-Kettering without having to travel outside of eastern Connecticut. Backus currently treats 800 to 900 newly diagnosed cancer patients per year, in addition to caring for previously diagnosed patients.

"This is very, very exciting for all of us," he said. "With this affiliation, patients can have advanced cancer care in a community hospital setting."

Backus oncologists, he said, will have "immediate access" to colleagues at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, enabling collaborative back-and-forth consultations between physicians in the academic medical setting and doctors treating patients in their home communities.

Elliot Joseph, president and chief executive officer of Hartford HealthCare, said it is an honor for the institution to be chosen as Sloan-Kettering's first partner in the new cancer alliance.

"Memorial Sloan-Kettering chose Hartford HealthCare because of our dedication to delivering high-quality, consistent care across the state and because of the proven expertise of our physicians and medical teams," he said. "This will save lives by bringing evidence-based, world-class standards to our entire provider network."

Dr. José Baselga, physician-in-chief at Sloan-Kettering, noted that while most of the cancer care in this country is done in community hospitals, "cancer advances can take years to be adopted in a community setting.

"We want to rapidly accelerate the pace of integrating the latest advances of cancer care into a community setting," he said. "This unprecedented approach will demonstrate real value to both organizations and most importantly will improve the lives of cancer patients."

One aspect of the collaboration is the establishment of the first Memorial Sloan-Kettering Alliance clinical trials site at Hartford Hospital.

Through the alliance, Memorial Sloan-Kettering physicians and leadership will be collaborating with Hartford HealthCare physicians on disease management teams, through on-site observations of new techniques, by sharing educational resources, by conducting quality and outcomes research, and by working together toward expanded access to clinical trials, the statement said.

Over the next six months, teams from both institutions will work together to assess the resources and capabilities of each of the system's five acute care hospitals, including Backus, and to identify specific areas of focus for each. In addition, they jointly will recruit a physician-in-chief of the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute who will be on the staff at both Hartford HealthCare and Memorial Sloan-Kettering, the statement said.

The developments in cancer care, both at Backus and at L+M, come as new cancer diagnoses are expected to increase to 2.3 million per year by 2030 as the nation's population ages. Thompson also noted that when it comes to cancer treatment, "one size no longer fits all," and that the alliance will better enable doctors to tailor new treatments to individuals.

Founded 125 years ago, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center is the world's oldest and largest private cancer center. The Hartford HealthCare network employs about 16,000 people and has net revenues of $2 billion. It includes Hartford Hospital, Backus, The Hospital of Central Connecticut, MidState Medical Center, Windham Hospital and the Institute of Living psychiatric center, which is part of a greater Behavioral Health Network including Rushford and Natchaug Hospital.

It also includes VNA HealthCare, Clinical Laboratory Partners, Hartford HealthCare Medical Group, Connecticut Senior Health Services — comprised of five assisted-living and skilled-nursing facilities— and the Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network.

j.benson@theday.com

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