When Temple University Health System bought Fox Chase Cancer Center in 2012, one goal was to balance Temple's role in North Philadelphia as the de facto public hospital for the poor with better-insured cancer patients.
But first, Temple had to get Fox Chase's financial house in order. Temple appears to be well on its way to that goal, reporting that Fox Chase had an operating profit of $11.34 million last year after several money-losing years in a row.
Thursday will mark another step in the rejuvenation of Fox Chase, with the official opening of an outpatient clinic for the Fox Chase-Temple University Hospital Bone Marrow Transplant Program on the fifth floor of Temple's Jeanes Hospital, right next door.
"We've had a major turnaround in that unit, which was doing roughly 60 to 70 transplants when we took it over, and this year we will probably hit 130 transplants," Fox Chase's chief executive, Richard I. Fisher, who joined the tax-exempt organization in 2013, said in a recent interview.
"It's a major success story," said Fisher, giving the credit to the program's director, Henry Fung, who joined Fox Chase in 2014 from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
The bone-marrow transplant unit at Jeanes has long been a Temple University Hospital program, but since Fisher arrived in 2013, Fox Chase has taken on Temple's oncology faculty, as the Fox Chase brand spreads through the Temple Health system.
That made bone-marrow transplants, which are used to treat patients with leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, aplastic anemia and other blood disorders, a joint effort.
"We needed better outpatient space," Fisher said.
"One of the things that I've done before is make the connection between inpatient and outpatient easier because some of these patients are discharged and still need to be seen frequently," he said. It makes it easier for the patients and for the faculty who need to go back and forth, he added.
To make way for the $2 million ambulatory-care center, 30 inpatient beds were removed from Jeanes, which had struggled to fill them.
"While Fox Chase is working out really well, management is trying to figure out how best to utilize Jeanes," said Eva Thein, an analyst with Fitch Ratings, which in December revised Temple's outlook to positive.
The bone-marrow transplant program has not been a major driver of the financial turnaround at Fox Chase because most of the revenue goes to the hospital side of the operation, which goes to Temple University Hospital, rather than to the physician side, Fisher said.
He cited as key a policy of giving new Fox Chase patients next-day appointments. Before the policy was adopted in 2014, Fox Chase was losing close to 30 percent of the patients who requested appointments.
"Now, we are down to about 3 percent drop-off in our new appointments," he said. That helped physician visits at Fox Chase soar to 99,869 in the year ended June 30, from 89,240 the year before.
Fisher said the financial gains are sustainable, with a $13 million operating profit expected for the current fiscal year.