The snail's-pace process of merging two hospital systems in central Massachusetts has inched past a legislative milestone, but it carries a pack of prohibitions and some unfinished business to an early 1998 closing.
The merger of state-owned University of Massachusetts Clinical System with not-for-profit Memorial Health Care, both in Worcester, was proposed in February and expected to be completed in July.
But regulatory reviews, union dickering and a financial once-over at the request of a state Senate committee combined to delay the enabling legislation required for the deal.
Among the conditions imposed along the way:
The combined organization, to be called UMass Memorial Health Care, made an airtight pledge to stay not-for-profit in the course of any future mergers or organizational changes.
The new system pledged no merger-related layoffs for one year.
Etched in the enabling legislation is an agreement not to move services from one predecessor organization to another before April 2000.
That's when the current contract with a nurses union at University of Massachusetts Medical Center expires, said Mark Shelton, a spokesman for the academic teaching facility. The provision put off until then a collection of union-related concerns that had stalled progress on the enabling legislation, he said.
In the interim, unionized nurses won't have to contend with moving to a post at Memorial outside the influence of the current bargaining agreement, and nonunion nurses at Memorial won't have to deal with the labor situation at the university hospital, Shelton said.
And the new system will have more than two years to iron out the issues raised by the transfer of university hospital control to a not-for-profit corporation. "There's a middle ground somewhere, but no one knows what it is," he said.
The merger would create a system of $742 million in annual revenues, more than 700 beds and 7,500 employees. The university medical school and the graduate schools of nursing and biomedical science will remain within the university system but will be closely linked with the new clinical organization.