Local providers, community organizations band together against Mass General Brigham's proposed expansion

The Massachusetts health system's $2 billion expansion proposal includes plans for three new outpatient clinics. Local organizations, including a safety-net health system, say the plan will raise costs and worsen health disparities. (Getty/ONYXprj)

Expansions planned by Mass General Brigham (formerly Partners HealthCare) are facing organized opposition from a collection of local providers, community organizations and business groups that say the development will increase healthcare costs and threaten the availability of existing services.

As part of a $2 billion expansion plan filed by Mass General Brigham with Massachusetts’ Department of Public Health, the system listed plans to develop three outpatient clinics in Westborough, Woburn and Westwood (communities located to the west, southwest and northwest, respectively, of Boston).

The proposed sites would offer a blend of primary care, behavioral health, specialty care and ambulatory surgery alongside a full imaging suite, according to the system. The project has a listed maximum capital expenditure of $223.7 million and is currently under regulatory review.

The expansion project has found its fair share of opponents, chief among is Worcester, Massachusetts-based UMass Memorial Health Care. The nonprofit safety-net system, which runs three member hospitals and other affiliated services filed its opposition to the expansion as far back as February.

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Today, UMass Memorial is joined by 13 others as the backers of an organized group calling itself the Coalition to Protect Community Care. Names among the group’s supporters range from fellow providers, like Wellforce and Shields Health Care Group, to two regional chambers of commerce and a handful of social services and health equity organizations.

The coalition wrote on its website that the ambulatory services to be delivered at the proposed facilities “are already offered by lower-cost, high-quality community providers in these regions.”

The redundant services are poised to increase the cost of care in those communities, the group wrote, and would threaten “hundreds” of local jobs, hamper the ability of existing organizations to provide safety-net care and worsen health disparities.

“Mass General Brigham is a massive organization, with the dollars and connections to continue their mammoth expansion throughout the state,” the coalition wrote under its mission statement. “In order to combat their plans, the Coalition to Protect Community Care aims to uplift the voices of all of our members, and our membership needs to be far-reaching and multifaceted, including individuals from every corner of our communities.”

In a statement provided to the Worcester Business Journal, Mass General Brigham said that the new facilities would serve “tens of thousands of existing patients” who would no longer need to travel to Boston to receive care.

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"The regulatory process currently underway is not intended as a forum for competitors to protect their economic interests. It is supposed to be a determination, on the health care merits, of the value of the investment," the system said in its statement. "If it provides a positive benefit to patients, it should be approved. Our proposed healthcare projects clearly meet that standard, and will allow us to deliver the right care, at the right time, in the right place and at a lower cost."

Mass General Brigham did not respond to Fierce Healthcare’s request for additional comment.

Last year, the nonprofit integrated academic healthcare system rebranded itself from Partners HealthCare to reflect its two well-known founding hospitals, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. It consists of 16 member institutions and offers a health insurance plan, home care, long-term care and other services.

Beyond the contested facilities, Mass General Brigham’s proposed expansion plan includes a five-story addition to Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital ($150.1 million maximum capital expenditure) and construction of a new building and other clinical service renovations as Mass General Hospital’s main campus and satellites ($1.9 billion maximum capital expenditure).

Earlier this year, Massachusetts General Hospital nixed a deal to acquire a New Hampshire hospital following state and federal regulatory scrutiny. It had kicked off the process back in 2018.