June 14, 2014

JPS and UNT form strong new bond

Ironing out the details won’t be easy, but linking the hospital and medical school promises benefits.

Plans announced this past week for joint operations between Tarrant County’s JPS Health Network and the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth hold hope for much more than the sum of the two parts.

They also lay a solid foundation on which medical education can grow in Fort Worth. Put bluntly, by linking arms these two organizations can be far stronger in the growing competition for recognition and resources essential for either to move forward.

Two very important longtime goals — increasing the number of medical resident positions, called “graduate medical education” slots, at JPS and adding an M.D. program to the osteopathic medical program at UNTHSC — could be easier to achieve with their combined clout.

More immediate benefits could be available, too, as the county’s largest teaching hospital and only medical school find ways to avoid duplicating services, align patient care practices and standards, respond to unmet needs and provide uniform access to patient records.

The proposed alignment is a complicated step, as might be expected between two large and complex organizations. And it will be months before the basic formalities will be worked out.

On Thursday, the governing boards of JPS and the UNT System agreed to a nine-page memorandum of understanding that sets forth the broad-brush goals and steps expected to accomplish the union.

A joint news release said working groups representing physicians and staff from JPS and the Health Science Center will begin working on operational details of the new venture “with an eye toward launching it early in 2015.”

Close reading of the memorandum shows that goal in itself might be ambitious.

The two institutions hope to establish a non-profit healthcare organization that in essence will be the employer of all of the medical professionals in the currently separate organizations.

JPS has contracts with 18 separate physician groups, some of which also work at UNTHSC.

Again speaking bluntly, doctors are highly educated and even sometimes stubborn individuals. Reaching agreement on a new governing structure, much less contracts governing working terms, conditions and financial arrangements, probably won’t be a walk in the park.

The past has seen some culture clashes between M.D.’s and osteopaths, although the two groups have recently agreed to joint accreditation standards. They’ll have to work hand-in-hand if the new local arrangement is to succeed.

But there is every reason to believe that a linkage between JPS and UNTHSC will move forward. The two most crucial reasons might be the two leaders involved.

Robert Earley, the president and chief executive officer at JPS, and Michael Williams, president of the Health Science Center, are two highly focused individuals who are clearly dedicated to the success of their institutions.

Earley and Williams are the visionaries behind the new plan. They are capable of driving the joint organizational efforts and making the union work well.

After pages of details about how that should happen and how the results will target improved patient care and communications, the memorandum of understanding lands on plans for medical education.

“UNTHSC and JPS will identify and actively pursue the addition or creation of further GME funding and programs,” it says flatly.

Then it says the two organizations and the new nonprofit medical group “will enter into agreements to provide undergraduate medical education opportunities and supervision.”

A growing medical school will be a boon for Fort Worth, and giving its students more opportunities to complete residency programs at JPS will help keep them here when they start their professional practice.

There’s a long string of positives to this plan.

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