With a $20 million gift from Robert and Myra Kraft, Partners HealthCare is launching a program to attract doctors and nurses to Massachusetts community health centers, the cornerstone of the push to reduce health costs and care for newly insured patients.
The gift to Partners HealthCare System Inc. will be used to pay off up to $50,000 of the medical school loans of physicians and nurse practitioners, as well as finance fellowships in targeted specialties and for master’s degrees. In return, caregivers must work for two to three years in a health center or other community-based setting to care for needy patients.
Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, said he intends the donation to serve as seed money that will inspire other philanthropists as well as states to support similar programs to increase the number of internists, family practitioners, pediatricians, psychiatrists, and obstetrician/gynecologists dedicating their careers to community medicine rather than to higher-paying, more glamorous specialties and private practices. Many primary care doctors are now so busy they will not accept new patients.
Kraft said that even as “well-to-do people from the Middle East,’’ for example, fly to Boston for treatment at the city’s elite teaching hospitals, “people living in our own communities aren’t treated properly,’’ either because they don’t have access to care or don’t believe they do.
“We wanted to do something to support everyone getting the kind of health care my family gets,’’ said Kraft, during an interview at Partners’ headquarters in the Prudential Tower last week. “What I worry about in this country are the people who are hurting the most.’’
Over the next five years, Partners chief executive Dr. Gary Gottlieb estimates, the Kraft donation will support more than 100 physicians, nurse practitioners, and other providers caring for about 200,000 patients.
The gift will create the Kraft Family National Center for Leadership and Training in Community Health to oversee the programs. A portion of the funding will support community-based programs at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Kraft would not say specifically how and why conversations between him and Partners began but he said he had been talking to Gottlieb about a major gift for nearly a year. Partners is the parent organization of Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals, and the Krafts have deep professional and personal connections to Harvard’s largest teaching hospitals.
Robert Kraft’s longtime primary care physician is Dr. Marshall Wolf at the Brigham, one of the most esteemed internists in the country, and in 2002 he had heart bypass surgery at the hospital. He is on the board of Dana-Farber, which has a shared cancer program with Partners, and his family started the Robert K. Kraft Family Blood Donor Center there. Myra Kraft is on the Brigham board. Their son Jonathan Kraft is on the Mass. General board, and doctors from that hospital have treated the Patriots since 1994. And Partners doctors work at an outpatient center at Kraft’s Patriot Place in Foxborough.
“When you’re vulnerable, it’s a time when you really appreciate people who will go way beyond what you’d hoped for,’’ Robert Kraft said. “I and other family members have received great care in these institutions.’’