The Pluta Cancer Center and the University of Rochester Medical Center are investigating a merger.
The organizations announced Monday they have inked a memorandum of understanding setting them up for a possible merger.
For the Pluta Cancer Center, a relatively small independent facility offering outpatient treatment only, the memorandum is the culmination of a process started by its board in April in which Pluta asked for proposals from several area health systems, Pluta executive director Kelly McCormick-Sullivan said. The board chose URMC as the organization that would best let Pluta maintain its mission as a small, patient-centered organization.
Funded by the Pluta Family Foundation, Pluta began as a unit of Genesee Hospital. After Rochester General Health System, then called ViaHealth, closed Genesee in 2001, Pluta for a time maintained its facility in Genesee’s Alexander Street building. But it ultimately cut ties with the system and relocated to a new facility it now occupies on Calkins Road in Henrietta.
The Pluta family remains involved with its namesake cancer center, McCormick-Sullivan said.
Sealing a deal to make the Pluta Cancer Center part of URMC could take months, officials at both organizations said. Pluta and URMC are doing due diligence and have yet to secure regulatory approvals.
State Department of Health reviews of such deals can take as long as a year to conclude. Also needed are approvals from the New York State Attorney General and the state Supreme Court.
Pluta has long stressed its size and that it is focused solely on treatment as features that let it deliver more personalized attention to patients receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
If the merger goes through, Pluta would not become part of URMC’s James P. Wilmot Cancer Center but would be a separate affiliate of Strong Memorial Hospital, Sullivan-McCormick said.
Under medical-provider reimbursement reforms undertaken by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services over the past five years, “it has become increasingly difficult for independent (medical) organizations to function,” McCormick-Sullivan said.
Driven by ongoing payment changes, oncology organizations across the country have been affiliating with larger hospitals and health systems and the pace of such mergers is accelerating, she said.
For Pluta, a merger with URMC would have only upsides, McCormick-Sullivan believes. Pluta would retain its independence, she said, keeping its current staff and maintaining its culture but would gain operational efficiencies in backroom functions such as billing and maintenance and implementation of an electronic medical records system that it could not achieve on its own.
URMC CEO Bradford Berk M.D. mirrored McCormick-Sullivan’s comments, citing access to the Pluta Center’s small, intimate treatment environment as a plus for URMC patients. Oncologists at URMC’s Highland Hospital already send patients to Pluta, Berk said.
In addition to the backroom boons McCormick-Sullivan named, affiliation with URMC would give Pluta patients access to technologies and treatment protocols they might not otherwise see, Berk added.
In an unrelated development, URMC’s Wilmot center has been cementing closer ties to the Buffalo-based Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a onetime rival, since last fall. Under a memorandum of understanding inked last year, Roswell and the URMC cancer center have agreed to undertake joint research projects and evenly split any proceeds the projects might bring in.
An eventual merger between Wilmot and Roswell could develop but was not actively in the works, Roswell and URMC officials told the Rochester Business Journal in April.
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