The Rhode Island Health Department last week stood pat and declined to begin reviewing the proposed acquisition of Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence by Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., pending the results of the review of the same deal by Rhode Island's attorney general.
The health department's refusal to move forward on the deal prompted Roger Williams and Columbia to hint at legal action against the state.
"We're very disappointed," said Frances Driscoll, a Roger Williams spokeswoman. "We're examining our options at the present time."
She said the providers aren't ruling out a lawsuit against the department.
The providers also suggested possible legal action in a May 14 letter to the health department, politely insisting that it begin processing the providers' application for a transfer of hospital ownership, which has been pending since February. The providers gave the department a May 20 deadline to respond.
Beating the short six-day deadline by 24 hours, Patricia Nolan, M.D., health department director, said in a May 19 letter: "Please be advised that the department declines to change its position," despite having carefully reviewed the request.
In April, the health department had said it would hold off reviewing the request until the state attorney general finishes examining the planned handling of the not-for-profit hospital's charitable assets.
The attorney general is negotiating with Roger Williams and Columbia over payment for an independent analysis of the hospital's charitable assets. No timetable for review of the transaction is available, the attorney general's office said.
Columbia's offer to buy the 152-bed hospital for $50 million has been pending since last June.
A further delay in the health department review could postpone the Roger Williams sale by another six or seven months, Driscoll said. The parties need health department approval to transfer Roger Williams' certificate-of-need and license to Columbia.