OLOL, Mary Bird Perkins split apart over issues surrounding long-term growth

telemedicine Our Lady of the Lake ER
Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. (File photo)

Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center’s announcement today that it is establishing a $100 million regional cancer center—the Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Institute—may appear to be a reaction to the recent decision by the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, OLOL’s longtime cancer care partner and next door neighbor, to end its affiliation with the hospital and partner with an out-of-state network of independent cancer centers.

But planning for the new OLOL institute, which will have a more regional focus and include the development of a $60-million, 80,000-square-foot freestanding building on the OLOL campus, has been in the works, at least in broad terms, for months.

In fact, it was a disagreement between leadership at OLOL and MBPCC over how to proceed with long-term growth that led to the breakup between the two institutions.

According to sources familiar with the situation, OLOL was pushing a deal that would have essentially brought MBPCC under the wing of OLOL or its parent organization, FMOL, and given the hospital shared governance of the 50-year-old center—an arrangement that leadership of the 50-year-old MBPCC was not interested in pursuing.

After MBPCC announced in August it would end its affiliation with OLOL, OLOL decided to move forward with its own growth plans anyway, even expanding them to include a significantly larger building than would have been necessary under the partnership with MBPCC.

“Knowing they have decided to move in a different direction, we realized it’s time for us to do what we need to do to improve and take our services to the next level,” OLOL CEO Scott Wester says.

That next level, according to OLOL officials, is to take OLOL’s cancer services from those provided by a “community cancer center,” which is how MBPCC has long branded itself, to that of a “regional institute,” which suggests a more sophisticated level of care.

And, OLOL will be marketing its cancer services under the new “institute” brand as soon as this week.

“A lot of the large hybrid academic centers use the word ‘institute,’” Wester says. “It means comprehensive services for that one disease—everything from prevention to diagnosis to treatment modality to what happens post treatment to research activities.”

While today’s announcement represents a further splintering of an already divided and competitive market—Ochsner Baton Rouge Medical Center also provides cancer care and treatment—OLOL officials welcomed Gov. John Bel Edwards and Mayor Sharon Weston Broome to their news conference, underscoring what they say will be the institute’s more integrated, collaborative and regional approach to providing cancer care.

“When we invest $100 million in something, it’s about more than just the Baton Rouge community,” says OLOL’s Dr. Catherine O’Neal. “The Baton Rouge community is important but this is about growing something regional that will attract patients from all over.”

OLOL, through its current affiliation with MBPCC, has a nearly 25% market share of cancer care statewide, while the state loses about 10% of its patients to regional cancer centers like MD Anderson in Houston.

The purpose of developing the new OLOL Cancer Institute is to help capture some of that patient base, OLOL officials say.

Local health care experts are still trying to figure out how further dividing an already splintered market will improve health care in Baton Rouge. 

MBPCC says in a statement, “With teams of oncology experts, strong clinical partners including Woman’s Hospital, Baton Rouge General and OneOncology, as well as academic partners, especially our longstanding joint medical physics and research programs with LSU, and passionate community supporters, we are uniquely positioned to bring our mission to fruition today for every individual who seeks care within our network.”