By DANIEL KITTREDGE After years of talks - and, at times, acrimony - the state's two largest health care systems have reached agreement on a merger. The new entity formed from the combination of Lifespan and Care New England would also bring Brown
After years of talks – and, at times, acrimony – the state’s two largest health care systems have reached agreement on a merger.
The new entity formed from the combination of Lifespan and Care New England would also bring Brown University into the fold to create a “world-class integrated academic health system,” according to a joint statement last week announcing the signing of a “definitive agreement” on the merger plans.
The university has pledged at least $125 million over the course of five years to support the development of the new system. Additionally, “Brown will participate on the governing board of the newly merged health system and play a key role in integrating medical education and research with clinical practice across the combined systems hospitals,” the statement reads.
“With co-investment from Lifespan, Care New England and Brown, we bring together the system’s premier teaching hospitals – Lifespan’s Rhode Island, Miriam, Hasbro, Newport and Bradley hospitals, and Care New England’s Women & Infants, Kent, and Butler hospitals – with Brown’s leading research and medical education from The Warren Alpert Medical School,” the statement continues. “This will create an integrated academic health system (AHS) that has the full array of complementary medical specialties required for excellence in health care, biomedical research to remain on the leading edge of treatment and therapies, and the collaboration required to enable medical practitioners to effectively and efficiently provide health care to the community. This is a unique and valuable opportunity to bring together the expertise and capacity of three organizations to offer excellent, coordinated care to patients.”
The merger must clear a number of regulatory hurdles, including approvals from the state’s Department of Health, the attorney general’s office and the Federal Trade Commission.
It will also undoubtedly face antitrust concerns and questions regarding its impact on Rhode Island’s health care and economic landscapes, given the number of people treated and employed by the two existing systems.
In a statement last week, Lynn Blais, president of United Nurses and Allied Professionals, said: “Any new entity that would combine two of Rhode Island’s largest healthcare providers and employers must be painstakingly scrutinized to ensure that it is in the best interest of patients and frontline health workers. Our priority is the protection of critical, local services and jobs at our community hospitals.”
She continues: “We look forward to continuing a thoughtful and productive dialogue with Lifespan and Care New England about this process, and while we see the potential in this proposed new entity, we remain skeptical without the assurance of a formal agreement on services and jobs.”
Patrick Quinn, executive vice president of SEIU 1199 NE, also issued a statement after the deal was announced.
“Our membership, the frontline health care heroes who have showed up every day during the pandemic, have many questions about what the impact of the proposed merger will be on the vital services that we provide,” it reads. “Any changes to the current health system and the hospital system in particular needs to focus on improving health care delivery access to Rhode Islanders. A transaction of this magnitude between the first and third largest private sector employer in the state would change the entire economy of Rhode Island.”
It continues: “We need to proceed cautiously to ensure that sacrifices of frontline health care workers are honored and respected and that the eventual passing of the pandemic does not result in the amazing efforts of frontline caregivers being forgotten or diminished. Everyone employed now needs to be offered the opportunity to continue working. The corporate leaders of the two largest hospital systems have the burden to demonstrate how all Rhode Islander will benefit and how in particular we can do better by communities of color by improving access to high quality health care, growing good jobs, improving health outcomes and being good neighbors.”
State leaders, meanwhile, have expressed support for the creation of the new health system.
Gov. Gina Raimondo – who has been a proponent of the merger and in 2019 urged Lifespan, Care New England and Brown to engage in new talks after Massachusetts-based Partners stepped away from its bid to acquire Care New England – issued a statement last week saying there “is no question that a local, integrated health care system is in the best interest of Rhode Islanders.”
“Today’s announcement will benefit patients by ensuring they have access to the highest quality of care and will spur economic growth by helping us attract top talent and solidify our position as a hub of innovation and scientific development,” continues the statement from the outgoing governor, who was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Commerce on Tuesday. “I want to thank the leadership teams of Lifespan, Care New England and Brown University for their collaboration in reaching this historic agreement.”
House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio issued a joint statement after the merger agreement was announced.
“We are excited that the long-anticipated merger of Lifespan and Care New England, our two largest health care delivery systems, has advanced for public review by the Department of Health, the Health Services Council and the Attorney General’s office,” it reads. “We have seen in other regions the tremendous advantages that stem from a strong academic health system as an anchor tenant in a capital city. The legislature will be reviewing the details to ensure that patient care and the health care jobs are not adversely impacted by the merger.”
Last week’s announcement lists a wide range of benefits that Lifespan, Care New England and Brown say the new arrangement will have for Rhode Island.
Most are focused on improvements in health care, including the “integration of medical innovation and world-class research to inform clinical care in such areas as cancer, women’s health, and brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and ALS by moving research from the laboratory bench into the hands of clinicians taking care of patients at the hospital bedside.”
The new health system will also be positioned to “address many of the underlying chronic health conditions of Rhode Island residents, including cancer, heart disease, neurological problems, children’s diseases and conditions, behavioral health/substance misuse, women’s health, and obesity,” and help to “encourage healthy environments in Rhode Island communities that lead to reductions in racial and ethnic disparities in health.”
Additionally, the health systems and Brown say the new system will “serve as an economic engine that attracts federal research funding, generates biomedical innovation, attracts and retains talent, attracts and creates new companies and collaborates with other Rhode Island academic, civic, and business organizations.”
“What I am most excited about is the ability of our new, locally based, academic health system to compete at a national level, innovate, attract top talent, develop new scientific knowledge, improve the care we deliver and serve as an economic engine for Providence and the state,” Lifespan President and CEO Timothy J. Babineau, M.D., said in the joint statement. “This is an exciting moment-in-time, we cannot let it slip through our grasp yet again.”
James E. Fanale, M.D., president and CEO of Care New England, added: “The positive reaction that we’ve seen, really across the board, to the creation of this new system has been outstanding. Our partners across the region, especially our internal colleagues and physicians, really support this because it’s a very exciting proposition. Creating something new and visionary, but with concrete goals and true work plans, sets the integrated AHS up to achieve high quality care with local access for the people that we serve. It is something to be proud of.”
Christina Paxson, president of Brown University, said in the statement: “We’re committed to creating an integrated health system that increases access to excellent health care and by doing so, reduces health disparities. Great health care should be accessible to everyone, including people from communities that historically have experienced obstacles to accessing health care. The seamless integration of research and clinical care drives improvements in the health of patients by offering all Rhode Islanders access to state-of-the-art medicine.”