Vanguard in talks to team with Tufts in Massachusetts push

JV would scout for acquisitions, be foundation for ACO

Vanguard Health Systems executives have entered into exclusive talks with counterparts at Tufts Medical Center in Boston to create a joint venture that would look to bring into its fold other hospitals and physician groups in Massachusetts.

Also part of the joint venture is the New England Quality Care Alliance, a 500-physician group affiliated with Tufts Medical. The organizations say they expect to take several months to iron out the details of their partnership, which also will help them prepare for life in the age of accountable care organizations — health systems that combine hospitals, insurers and primary care for a specific population and that increasingly link their quality metrics to reimbursement rates. It also will help them play defense against other large health care systems — including Cerberus-backed Steward Health — that have announced various partnerships and acquisitions this year.

"This will be an innovative partnership unlike anything Massachusetts has seen to date. This system will deliver for patients and providers on cost, service and quality," said Eric Beyer, president and CEO of Tufts Medical Center and Floating Hospital for Children. "It offers an excellent option for physicians and hospitals who are exploring potential alignments as we move toward building accountable care organizations."

Vanguard and Tufts have been partners on various other fronts over the years — check the details here — and, as part of teaming up even more closely, Tufts would buy a minority stake in one of Vanguard's two hospitals in the Boston area.

This set of Tufts talks are the second recent big strategic move in Massachusetts for Nashville-based Vanguard. Earlier this month, its two hospitals there were chosen alongside Tufts as recipients of an $88.5 million Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services loan to launch a nonprofit insurer.

Investors appear to approve of Vanguard's Tufts plans: Shares of the company (Ticker: VHS) were up more than 7 percent to $11.50 in afternoon trading. That puts them near their 2012 highs.