Beth Israel Deaconess, New England Baptist hospitals to talk about running clinical programs together

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has agreed to talk to New England Baptist Hospital about a range of potential joint clinical and community programs, but a merger is not in the works.

The two Boston hospitals have signed a memorandum of understanding to spend three to four months exploring “a whole variety of collaborations” that haven’t yet been specified, said Judy Glasser, senior vice president of Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess.

Beth Israel Deaconess and New England Baptist, which specializes in orthopedic surgery, both are members of CareGroup Healthcare System. That hospital and physicians network was formed in 1996 to compete with Boston’s Partners HealthCare System, the organization created through the merger of Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals.

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But unlike the Partners hospitals, CareGroup members were unable to work out common administrative and clinical functions. CareGroup never formally dissolved, and exists today primarily as a joint bond-holding organization.

Given that Beth Israel Deaconess and New England Baptist and their doctors have “long-standing relationships,” the current negotiations are “a natural avenue for us to mutually explore,” Beth Israel Deaconess chief executive Kevin Tabb and Stuart Rosenberg, president of its physicians group, wrote in an e-mail to employees Wednesday.

“Over the next 90 (to) 120 days, senior teams representing our hospitals and physicians will be meeting to talk about possible collaborative opportunities,” Tabb and Rosenberg wrote. “While we are not talking about a merger, we are looking at a variety of ways to partner to benefit our patients and our communities. We are very excited about the possibilities of this partnership.”

Beth Israel Deaconess has made a number of recent moves to expand its ties with other health care organization in a Massachusetts market that is rapidly consolidating.

Last month, the Boston hospital said it plans to buy Jordan Health Systems Inc., the parent of 155-bed Jordan Hospital in Plymouth. It also said it was launching a new kind of “accountable care organization” that would include not only employed and affiliated doctors but independent community doctors and hospitals Beth Israel Deaconess doesn’t wholly own.

If the Jordan deal goes through, it would strengthen the Beth Israel Deaconess network, which includes its own physicians group as well as Atrius Health, a Newton-based alliance of doctors groups such as Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates. Beth Israel Deaconess also has a clinical affiliation with Hebrew SeniorLife and is negotiating affiliations with Cambridge Health Alliance and Signature Healthcare in Brockton, which operates the 253-bed Brockton Hospital.