NEWS

Legislative leaders say future of Kent Hospital a top concern

Posted 5/11/22

By JOHN HOWELL

In a co-authored response to Patricia Criner, an ICU nurse and president of the local 5008 of the United Nurses and Allied Professionals at Kent Hospital the leadership in the House …

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NEWS

Legislative leaders say future of Kent Hospital a top concern

Posted

By JOHN HOWELL


In a co-authored response to Patricia Criner, an ICU nurse and president of the local 5008 of the United Nurses and Allied Professionals at Kent Hospital the leadership in the House and the Senate say they will work to do what is best for the area and the future of Kent, the state’s second largest hospital.

In an op-ed published in the May 5 Warwick Beacon and Cranston Herald, Criner said the union had not received responses to emailed to legislators citing union concerns over the hospital’s future now that the plan to merge Care New England and Lifespan has been rejected by the Federal Trade Commission and the RI Attorney General. Kent, one of three CNE hospitals, has been financially hard hit by the pandemic and according to hospital president Dr. Paari Gopalakrishnan in an interview also published on May 5 continues to lose between $1 million and $3 million monthly. Gopalakrishnan called on the state to use American Rescue Plan Act (APRA) to help bail out the hospital this year. He is especially concerned over the financial stability of the hospital going forward.

In an interview Monday Criner and Jack Callaci, Director at United Nurses & Allied Professionals, articulated their fear that now that multiple plans to strengthen CNE through a merger or acquisition have been thwarted that Kent could be sold to a for profit institution that would milk it for the benefit of stockholders and the detriment of the community. They are calling on legislative leaders to see that that doesn’t happen.

House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey responded this week. They preferred for the op-ed they co-authored to layout their positions.

“The threat of a private, for-profit entity with more interest in profits than people taking control of this indispensable, nonprofit community institution is one we have taken extremely seriously as leaders at the State House,” it reads. The op-ed goes on to read, “As Care New England continues to explore options for its future – and knowing that Kent and other institutions hang in the balance, both in CNE’s network and beyond – we remain deeply committed to protecting patients, preserving jobs, and ensuring the stability of our health care system.”

Callaci said within hours of learning the CNE and Lifespan merger was rejected, StoneBridge Healthcare, which according to its website was “recently established to ensure that financially struggling hospitals can survive and thrive across the suburbs of America” was looking to acquire CNE. Callaci said StoneBridge doesn’t own any hospitals but manages them after working out deals that strip local community input and assets.

In a February story soon after rejection of the CNE-Lifespan merger, Go Local Providence quoted a letter from Stonebridge's CEO Joshua Nemzoff reading,  “Our offer is a transaction value of $550 million that will allow the health system to keep all of its cash, pay off all of its liabilities and fully fund its pension at closing.” 

Callacci says Prime HealthCare and Prospect Medical Holdings, both for profit operations are also circling “like vultures” to snag Kent and other operations with the rejection of the merger. Callacci points to the “shameful “ records of Prime and Prospect in claiming they would be poor stewards of Kent. 

In her op-ed published last Thursday Criner writes, “Is one of these entities going to be the default option for Kent Hospital because the legislature sits on its hands and does nothing?” She reasons if that were to happen it would be a “tremendous and permanent loss for our community.”

Callaci called CNE “a good organization that doesn’t waste money. Look at why they took a hit,” he said referring to the pandemic. While some for profit hospitals closed services during the pandemic including emergency rooms, Callaci points out that Kent didn’t and now they’re facing huge deficits.

While it was the Federal Trade Commission and the Rhode Island Attorney General that nixed the Lifespan and CNE merger, Callaci faults legislators and the governor’s office for not playing a more active role in seeking a viable plan to sustain quality healthcare in the state. He points to the plan for Partners HealthCare to acquire CNE that would have infused capital into CNE and strengthen an already established relationship between Brigham’s, a part of the Partners group, and Kent. Had the acquisition occurred, it would have left Lifespan the weaker of the state’s two larger healthcare systems. Former Governor Gina Raimondo working with Brown University offered the merger of Lifespan and CNE as a better path, strengthening the state’s medical community and providing enhanced medical services to Rhode Islanders. 

Initially, CNE balked at the merger and the future of the two systems appeared in limbo once Partners backed away from its offer. The pandemic changed the dynamics. With the healthcare systems working together to set up field hospitals, testing sites and sharing resources, CNE and Lifespan revived talks spending a reported $14 million to submit the merger plan.

Callacci and the union favored the plan. Callacci believes the safeguards built into the merger addressed concerns that it would monopolize health care in the state. He is critical of the FTC and the attorney general of narrowing their perspective to Rhode Island and not including larger sections of Massachusetts when determining a merged CNE/Lifespan market share. A key point in rejecting the merger is that 80 percent of healthcare services would have been concentrated in a single entity.

In their response to the op-ed, the legislative leaders write, “We understand the frustration many feel, particularly given the prior failure of Boston-based Partners HealthCare’s agreement to buy Care New England. It may seem that decision-makers have rejected workable plans without offering alternative solutions.”

Looking ahead they write, “We believe the scope of what is at stake is too great, the implications too far-reaching, to be left subject to purely political considerations, or to be decided based solely on the public cases – appealing though they have often been – made by the parties involved. We must establish, and trust in, a process that is deliberate, comprehensive, and above all focused on the needs of our state. We must carefully consider every risk and every benefit, particularly with transactions that impact such a significant portion of our health care system.”

In response to questions as to the status of talks with potential partners/buyers, CNE released the following statement on Tuesday: ““The CNE Board of Directors and senior leadership team, together with a team of 3rd party strategic consultants, is reviewing every option. This can take some time, but the process is underway and continues with deliberation and rigor. The outcome will be the right direction for the future of patient quality and safety, and financial stability.”

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