PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island’s incoming House speaker, Joseph Shekarchi, and Senate majority leader Michael McCaffrey are keeping close tabs on the potential mega-merger of Lifespan and Care New England, the state’s two largest hospital groups, they said this week.
In separate interviews, the Warwick Democrats said they want to make sure that Kent County Hospital, a Care New England property, won’t see cuts in services or jobs if the two health care giants move forward with a plan to form a single academic medical center with Brown University.
Shekarchi said he doesn’t want Kent County Hospital to become a so-called treat and transfer hospital, and he wants to ensure that any efficiencies achieved in a merger won’t adversely affect communities like Warwick.
“Our job isn’t to do what’s best for Care New England or Lifespan, it’s to do what’s best for the state,” Shekarchi said.
“Coming from Warwick, where Kent County Hospital is, I want to make sure that Kent County Hospital is protected if they are going to move forward with the merger,” McCaffrey said. “Obviously, it’s only in its infancy right now, but we want to be sure that if there is any legislation that the attorney general will want, we will look at that, and also the Department of Health, so that all the parties will be protected.”
The boards at Lifespan and Care New England have signed a letter of intent to merge, although officials at both organizations have said there are still plenty of hurdles as they seek approvals from the Federal Trade Commission, the Rhode Island Department of Health, and the attorney general’s office.
Lifespan is the state’s largest employer, operating Rhode Island Hospital, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Miriam Hospital, Bradley Hospital, and Newport Hospital. In addition to Kent, Care New England runs Women & Infants Hospital and Butler Hospital.
The Legislature’s role in a potential merger is limited, but as leaders in each chamber, Shekarchi’s and McCaffrey’s concerns are not being taken lightly by officials at the two hospital groups.
Care New England’s president and CEO, Dr. James E. Fanale, said there is “no notion of changing the structure or status of Kent Hospital.” He said it has the second-largest emergency department in Rhode Island, and “the plan would be to amplify rather than detract from that.”
“Kent Hospital has served Rhode Island, from the geographical center of the state, for many, many years and across many specialties,” Fanale said in a statement. “As we’ve seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, necessary services and the healthcare workers needed to execute them, are required there.”
The president and CEO of Lifespan, Dr. Timothy J. Babineau, issued a more general statement, explaining that “the parties recognize Kent’s vital role in providing quality healthcare and jobs in its local community, and we look forward to the benefits of what an integrated system would mean for patients and the community.”
The two hospital groups have had on-and-off merger discussions for years, but they announced in September that they were negotiating a deal to form an academic medical Center with Brown University. In 2019, Partners HealthCare, which is now Mass General Brigham, tried to acquire Care New England, but the deal fell apart.
Neither Shekarchi nor McCaffrey said they oppose a merger, but both said they intend to continue to raise questions.
Earlier this month, a new Pennsylvania company approached Care New England’s board with an offer to buy the organization for $250 million, but Fanale said the merger negotiations were exclusive with Lifespan.
Shekarchi said he expects to see more out-of-state organizations seeking to enter Rhode Island in the coming year.
“You will see other hospital chains looking at Rhode Island as a lucrative market,” Shekarchi said.