Henry Ford Health System in Detroit and Michigan State University in East Lansing have signed a nonbinding letter of intent to create a primary affiliation to share research and clinical care, increase health student education and develop a long-term plan to build a joint research institute in Detroit.

The letter of intent, which is expected to be finalized this fall with a series of definitive agreements, was developed after months of discussions, beginning shortly after affiliation talks between Henry Ford and Wayne State University broke down.

“Partnerships with the potential for greater impact are more important than ever before,” said Wright Lassiter III, Henry Ford’s president and CEO, in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing injustices and recent protests in cities across our nation have amplified the importance of and urgency for innovation and discovery that radically improves the health of all of the communities we serve.”

The affiliation is expected to lead to a redesign of care around patients and communities through education, research and clinical care, officials said. The collaboration, which builds on Henry Ford and MSU’s long-term medical education and research partnership, also will focus on improving access, affordability and outcomes for Michigan’s underserved populations.

“Healthcare is one of the most important building blocks of a strong community, and for that we believe every individual deserves accessible, affordable, compassionate, quality care,” said Dr. Samuel Stanley Jr., MSU’s president, in a statement. “We must seek solutions to address disparities across cultural, racial and socioeconomic lines. This pandemic has demonstrated the willingness of individuals from multiple disciplines and from different organizations to unite — the time to build upon that is now.”

While the affiliation between Henry Ford and Michigan State doesn’t immediately appear to be as far-reaching as the talks between Henry Ford and Wayne State, officials say it could be expanded through the definitive agreements still under discussions.

The Wayne State board of governors began squabbling during the fall of 2018 when Wayne State was finalizing its letter of intent to replace Detroit Medical Center with Henry Ford as its primary teaching hospital.

But in late March 2019, Lassiter sent a letter to Wayne State notifying it that Henry Ford had suspended affiliation talks because the WSU board of governors was not united in its position on the far-reaching affiliation.

For the Henry Ford-MSU affiliation, combined research areas will include health inequities and disparities, social determinants of health, primary care, implementation sciences, precision health and cancer. Henry Ford is one of the region’s major academic medical centers, receiving nearly $100 million in annual research funding and ranking among Michigan’s largest NIH-funded institutions.

“This effort will uniquely prepare our students to lead the way in improving health and healthcare in the future,” said Dr. Norman Beauchamp Jr., MSU’s executive vice president for health sciences, in a statement.

“Aligning the education, clinical and research strengths of Henry Ford, with MSU strengths campus-wide, we will drive discovery, enhance existing partnerships and ultimately bring more to bear in serving the communities of Michigan.”

Dr. Adnan Munkarah, Henry Ford Health System’s executive vice president and chief clinical officer, said the partnership will also enable the expansion of translational research, a major emphasis for six-hospital Henry Ford.

“Together, we have a tremendous opportunity to think about the whole care continuum,” Munkarah said in a statement. “From accelerating the speed at which patients benefit from new discoveries to working with our health plan on innovative care models to drive down costs — we will partner with patients, families and communities across their whole health care journey, including primary care and prevention to complex specialty care and chronic disease management.”

Oncology and cancer programs have been a major growth area for Henry Ford the past several years. The partnership is expected to create a fully integrated cancer program that will combine research and clinical care.

Executives said the partnership will include efforts to achieve National Cancer Institute designation.

Karmanos Cancer Institute is one of 47 U.S. comprehensive cancer centers recognized by the National Cancer Institute and the only one in metro Detroit.

Medical education also is a major academic service line for MSU and Henry Ford. The partnership is expected to expand education opportunities for physicians, nurses and other health care professionals, focused on diversity, recruitment and retention and training models.

“We know that providing a progressive approach to medical education — strongly rooted in early collaboration and integrated care modeling — can attract and retain the best and brightest health care talent,” said Dr. Steve Kalkanis, CEO of the Henry Ford Medical Group and the health system’s senior vice president and chief academic officer, in a statement. “That’s a truly unique way we can promote economic growth and vitality for Detroit and all of Michigan.”

Henry Ford Health System is a $6.5 billion integrated health system comprised of six hospitals, a health plan, and more than 250 sites including medical centers, walk-in and urgent care clinics, pharmacy, eye care facilities and other healthcare retail.

Michigan State University is one of the nation’s top research universities and has affiliations with major academic hospitals in Michigan, including Detroit Medical Center and Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids. It has more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

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Source: Henry Ford, Michigan State sign affiliation letter of intent

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