The Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, a group devoted to studying the city's health-care needs, is taking its mission national. Organizers are establishing a center devoted to finding solutions for treating the nation's high-cost patients, the coalition announced this week.

Jeffrey C. Brenner, director of Cooper University's Institute of Urban Health and the Camden physician who founded the coalition, said the center would be the first such organization in the country.

"I think this is part of Camden's recovery, for the city to be on the map for something so positive," he said.

The project is funded by $8.7 million from AARP, the Atlantic Philanthropies, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The goal, Brenner said, is to create a network of health-care professionals and others who are looking for ways to care for the country's most complicated patients, such as those who make frequent hospital visits and suffer from a variety of overlapping ailments. Although the coalition is based in Camden, Brenner said the as-yet-unnamed center would have no centralized location.

This year the center will hold its first conference in Philadelphia and create a website that features research and information about best practices around the country. The funding will allow the coalition to expand a hotspotting program that brings graduate students to Camden and teaches them how to identify and study high-need patients over a period of months.

The coalition began in 2003 as a group of primary care providers, after Brenner determined through data and research that a small number of patients in Camden were responsible for the bulk of the area's health-care costs. Since then, the group has built relationships with the health-care community and leaders in state and local government.

Last year, it collaborated with county leaders and health-care providers on rolling out a program to get the area's chronically homeless indoors - an initiative Brenner has said is more cost-effective than treating them in hospitals, shelters, and jails.

"I think there's been a recognition that we don't know how to take care of really sick people," Brenner said. "And we're finding that focusing on the most expensive patients is an important way of reframing the discussion. Once you pull the lid off, you can see all the breaks in the system."

856-779-3876 @AESteele