Boston Children's Hospital affiliating nearby Franciscan Children's to expand capacity, flesh out post-acute care

Boston Children’s Hospital and nearby Franciscan Children’s are moving forward with an affiliation agreement that includes hundreds of millions in modernization investments and strengthened medically complex post-acute services for the region’s largest pediatric provider.

The organizations had signed and announced the agreement back in October 2021, but have now confirmed that the arrangement will close on July 1. The deal sees Franciscan Children’s retain its branding as a “sister hospital” to Boston Children’s, though it will now be under the umbrella of Boston Children’s parent organization, Children’s Medical Center Corp.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity together to create a transformative new model of children’s behavioral and rehabilitative care, better serving the needs of our community and the children and families we serve,” Joseph Mitchell, M.D., president and CEO of Franciscan Children’s, said in the announcement. “We cannot wait to start this new chapter with our partners at Boston Children’s Hospital.”

Brighton, Massachusetts-based Franciscan Children’s is the only pediatric post-acute provider in New England, offering specialized rehabilitation and mental health services.

The organization had long collaborated with Boston Children’s on clinical coordination, preferred provider arrangements, staffing and advocacy. Their application for a Determination of Need to pursue the affiliation was approved by the Massachusetts Public Health Council in August 2022.

By joining forces, the providers said they will be able to take a more integrated approach to children’s health across inpatient, outpatient, primary care and school-based settings. They also plan to expand outpatient therapy and partial hospitalization programs, children’s mental health research, community- and school-based prevention programs.

In terms of concrete commitments, the deal will include a $500 million-plus investment in modernizing the Franciscan Children’s campus with, among other updates, “a new, state-of-the-art, net carbon-neutral building that will house the full continuum of care programs for medical rehabilitation and mental health services,” the organizations said.

The organizations also said they plan to hire 150 to 200 additional full-time employees by 2030, bump up training programs and build “a diverse employee pipeline from high school through medical school.”

Of note, demand for pediatric behavioral health services has escalated during the pandemic years. Researchers and organizations have sounded warnings on increased emergency care strain due in part to pediatric patients presenting with conditions such as attempted suicide, self-injury and depressive disorders.

“We are in the midst of a children’s mental health crisis, and it’s clear our system simply isn’t working for children and families,” Boston Children’s Hospital President and CEO Kevin Churchwell, M.D., said in a statement. “It’s why we are coming together as one team to act with the urgency this crisis demands. Together we will reshape children’s mental health and rehabilitative care through a fully integrated approach focused on improved prevention, identification and treatment of these diseases. And we’ll do it while breaking down barriers caused by systemic racism and ensuring that every child has access to care regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender or zip code.”

Eastern Massachusetts’ pediatric care market was upended in early 2022 with the shutdown of Tufts Medical Center’s inpatient services for children. At the time, patients and dozens of pediatric physicians were transferred to Boston Children’s.

With the affiliation, Boston Children’s and Franciscan Children’s said they will be increasing the number of beds available for pediatric inpatient services from 98 to 127 and nearly doubling their existing behavioral health bed capacity.

“This will reduce the number of kids forced to board in emergency rooms for medical and mental health needs,” they said in the announcement.