Virtua sending more brain surgery and cancer cases to Penn

Virtua, South Jersey's biggest health system, has entered into a partnership with Penn Medicine for cancer and neurosciences, the two tax-exempt systems announced Tuesday.

Penn's Abramson Cancer Center will replace Fox Chase Cancer Center, and in a neurosciences collaboration, Penn doctors will operate at Virtua Memorial Hospital, in Mount Holly. Virtua has been sending certain stroke patients to Capital Health in Hopewell Township, N.J.

Penn, the region's biggest health system, with about $5.3 billion in revenue, has many ties to community hospitals, but "this is a deeper relationship," said Ralph W. Muller, chief executive of the University of Pennsylvania Health System after the announcement at Virtua's Voorhees hospital.

Muller said the relationship with Virtua will cover Penn's complete cancer program, instead of just certain elements as is the case with other members of the Penn Cancer Network, which was started in 1991 and has 10 members.

"We'll go beyond cancer and neurosciences," Muller said of the relationship with Virtua, which had $1.25 billion in revenue last year. Muller also said Virtua will have a place in the $100 million outpatient center that Penn is building on Route 70 in Cherry Hill.

Muller and Virtua chief executive Rich Miller said one goal of the alliance was to keep patients as close to home as possible.

Both said the arrangement was not a prelude to a full merger of Virtua into Penn, which in August completed its acquisition of Lancaster General Health, in Lancaster, Pa.

Miller said Virtua's relationship with Fox Chase ended over the summer and Virtua had been considering a relationship with Penn for some time.

"We wanted someone to really work in the local community," Miller said.

Muller said the impetus for the alliance had nothing to do with the MD Anderson Cancer Center, which opened at Cooper University Health Care in 2013 and treated 3,200 cancer patients last year.

Penn Medicine had 12,134 cancer patients in the year ended June 30, 2014. Virtua officials said that in 2014, 4,000 people were diagnosed with cancer at Virtua. It's not clear how many of those patients went to Fox Chase.

A Fox Chase spokesman said the hospital, part of Temple University Health System, does not analyze how many patients come from each of its partners.

Fox Chase, which has begun a fiscal turnaround under Temple, has partnerships with seven hospitals or systems, down from 13 five years ago.

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