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A New Era in Health Care Begins at USC

by Sara Reeve and Katie Neith
A New Era in Health Care Begins at USC

This spring, the Trojan Family grew by two.

In a $275 million deal, USC acquired USC University Hospital and USC Norris Cancer Hospital from Tenet Healthcare Corp., making USC and UCLA the only Los Angeles-area universities owning hospitals. The purchase includes 471 inpatient beds and 1,600 hospital employees.

USC President Steven B. Sample hailed the acquisition as a “tremendous victory” for the University of Southern California.

“After spending thousands of man hours analyzing this deal from every conceivable angle,” he said, “the trustees and officers of USC believe it is very much in the university’s best interests to make this purchase at this time.”

Sample acknowledged that the purchase was a complex and expensive undertaking, especially in the midst of the worst U.S. economy in decades. However, he said, the greater risk would be not to invest in such an important opportunity to advance clinical programs and research.

“The purchase of these two hospitals has far-reaching, positive implications for the entire university,” he said. “In effect, what this purchase means is that we are establishing an academic medical center on our Health Sciences campus,” which will create deeper connections among disciplines on both campuses in order to enhance research, teaching and patient care.

“This is our new frontier,” he said. “My hope is that we embrace this historic opportunity with enthusiasm, creativity, insight and foresight.”

C. L. Max Nikias, USC executive vice president and provost, said that the strategic hospital acquisition will ensure USC’s position among the nation’s top-ranked research universities in the 21st century, an era in which medicine and biology and the interdisciplinary connections between these sciences and other disciplines will become the focus of innovation and growth.

“The hospital acquisition is an historic investment by USC and a strategic move to create an integrated academic medical center,” Nikias said. “We look forward to enhancing the patient service that comes with the outstanding care provided by our Doctors of USC. In so doing, we will elevate the Keck School of Medicine of USC as a nationally acclaimed leader among the nation’s medical schools.”

With the hospital acquisition, USC’s faculty physicians will care for private patients at two hospitals owned and managed by the university, which will allow greater physician direction of clinical programs. The acquisition will also permit the acceleration of innovative therapies and surgical techniques for cardiovascular and thoracic diseases, urologic disorders, neurological issues, musculoskeletal disorders, organ transplantation, cancer treatment, disease prevention and other health concerns.

Mitchell R. Creem, who became CEO of the two hospitals following a nationwide search led by Nikias, describes an academic medical center as much more than just new equipment and new information systems.

“It is about creating a sense of hope – hope that miracles can happen and that they can happen here with our new treatments and our new cures,” he said. “It’s about giving you all a feeling that, no matter how desperate things feel at times, you have a place to go with people who care.”
Having an academic medical center as part of the university will increase the Keck School’s ability to recruit the best doctors available, he added.

“These physicians want to practice at a university where they can see patients while still pursuing advanced research to improve patient care,” he said. “This acquisition is integral to strengthening USC’s position as a top academic institution.”

USC UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL opened in 1991 under the ownership of National Medical Enterprises Inc., which later became Tenet Healthcare Corp. Tenet acquired USC Norris Cancer Hospital in 2003.

Negotiations have been under way sinceApril 2008, when USC and Tenet signed a non-binding letter of intent for the university to acquire the two hospitals. USC filed a lawsuit in August 2006 seeking to end the relationship with Tenet, and Tenet filed a counterclaim against the university seeking monetary damages. The litigation was set aside as negotiations began.

Sample credited key members of the USC Board of Trustees with helping to bring the acquisition to a successful conclusion. “Our trustees were crucial to this intricate and exacting process,” he said. “Our current chairman, Ed Roski, like so many of his board colleagues, wholeheartedly believed that USC’s clinical enterprise would flourish remarkably once the university owned and integrated its academic medical center. And our immediate past chairman, Stanley Gold, lent his zeal and considerable talent to the project for two years, proving himself an astute chief negotiator for USC in this landmark acquisition.”

An acute care hospital, USC University Hospital tracks 7,700 inpatient visits and 56,000 outpatient visits each year. Patients at USC University Hospital have access to the most advanced medical treatments, such as neurointerventional radiology, minimally invasive cardiothoracic surgery, robotic surgery and interventional cardiology.

Devoted exclusively to the treatment of patients with cancer, USC Norris Cancer Hospital is affiliated with the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of the original eight such centers in the United States. The cancer center recently opened 99,000 square feet of new laboratory research space, including space for the new Epigenome Center. The close affiliation between the hospital and cancer center offers immediate benefit to patients seeking the latest breakthroughs in cancer prevention and treatment. Clinical trials are available for eligible patients who may not be succeeding with conventional treatments.

“The formal ownership of USC Norris Cancer Hospital is very exciting,” said Peter Jones, director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We have always worked together to deliver outstanding research and patient care, but now, through a truly integrated partnership, we can take cancer care to the next level.”

In recent decades, the Doctors of USC have built private practices at both hospitals. Facilities at the 411-bed USC University Hospital include the new 10-story Norris Inpatient Tower, which provides 11 new operating rooms and 150 inpatient rooms, many of which were never used prior to the acquisition by USC. USC Norris Cancer Hospital encompasses 60 inpatient beds.

When USC opens the new inpatient beds at University Hospital, the Doctors of USC will be caring for patients throughout a 1,400-bed system, including the 317-bed Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and the 600-bed Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center, where USC physicians have provided care to patients for more than 100 years. They have built the largest academic training program in the country, with more than 900 residents and fellows.

Outpatients seeking diagnostic testing, chemotherapy, radiation treatment and second opinions are treated onsite. USC Norris Cancer Hospital also has a radiation oncology department equipped with a CyberKnife and a Varian Trilogy Linear Accelerator, providing state-of-the-art technology, such as stereotactic radiosurgery, intensity-modulated radiation therapy and image-guided radiation therapy.

The faculty physicians of the Keck School of Medicine of USC educate new doctors while carrying out their own clinical practice and conducting research to improve health care.

CARMEN A. PULIAFITO, dean of the Keck School of Medicine, said that the purchase of the hospitals provides a link between medical education and medical practice for faculty and students. Before the acquisition, we were missing a connection to the principle of caring for patients before caring about the bottom line,” he said. USC is designed to create new knowledge, to train doctors and students, and to provide care to the community.

“This acquisition allows us to put patients above profits and provide first-rate care for our community.”

By having an academic medical center as part of the university, physicians, researchers and other medical professionals are onsite to provide highly specialized expertise to patients while at the same time developing excellent physicians and health care providers for the future.

These same professionals continue the delivery of excellent care to the community, carry out research activities that bring the latest diagnostic and treatment methods to patients, and extend new knowledge and leadership in the world of medicine.
The acquisition of the hospitals improves the Keck School of Medicine’s ability to recruit additional world-renowned academic physicians who are committed to excellence in patient care both at the public Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center and at the private hospitals, while also committing to excellence in medical education and clinical research.

“The quality of medical school education and residency education, I believe, is going to see a big improvement because there are new amenities that we can give to the residents and medical students that we were not able to in the past,” said Vaughn Starnes, chair of the Department of Surgery at the Keck School and surgeon-in-chief for the two hospitals.

“I think faculty will be even more engaged in the mission of teaching and education.”

Namir Katkhouda, professor of surgery, said: “It’s important, as academic physicians and surgeons, to have a hospital not just affiliated with USC, but belonging to USC. It will lead to improved patient care and an increase in quality research.”

Hospital efforts now are focused on integrating business operations of the physicians and hospitals, developing more patient-friendly business systems, planning for refreshed facilities and enhancing the overall patient experience.

The goal of the acquisition is to position USC and its academic medical center at the forefront of patient care and translational research, placing the Keck School in the top tier of national medical institutions.

According to Starnes, many patients now find themselves at USC hospitals because they have followed a certain doctor, but in the future, “people will come here because it is a great medical center, with the expectation that they will find great doctors.”

A New Era in Health Care Begins at USC

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