Landmark Medical Center and Tenet Healthcare Corp. are about to shoot the rapids of public opinion in Rhode Island in the first public step toward the completion of their $36 million deal.
Next week Rhode Island Attorney General Jeffrey Pine will convene public hearings in Providence and Woonsocket, where 214-bed Landmark is located, on the conversion of the hospital through a $32.5 million sale to Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Tenet. Other considerations boost the deal's total value to about $36 million.
A lingering dispute between Landmark and the Visiting Nurse Service of Greater Woonsocket, an affiliate, promises to add heat and noise to the hearings.
After the Tenet purchase was announced last September, the VNS sued Landmark to legally release it from their tight affiliation because the 300-employee nursing service wants to remain not-for-profit. Despite months of negotiations, no agreement is in sight.
"We haven't reached a settlement of our differences yet, to our disappointment," said Don Wineberg, an attorney for the VNS. As a result, he said, "we're gearing up to take a prominent role in those hearings, obviously opposing (the sale)."
Landmark spokesman Stephen Hines said: "We're hopeful we'll reach a mutually agreeable solution."
But the VNS says Landmark has remained recalcitrant, even lowering a proposed financial settlement by $500,000 after the VNS reduced its demands by $200,000.
The delay in cutting their ties has hurt patient referrals to the VNS and resulted in the loss of a sale of an outcomes management program to an unnamed company for $1 million, Wineberg said.
At the very least, the continuing dispute will provide a potentially embarrassing distraction to the real meat of the Landmark sale, which is the first test of Rhode Island's tough not-for-profit conversion law enacted last year over the veto of Gov. Lincoln Almond.
Under that law, spurred by Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.'s controversial and ultimately failed bid for Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence, the attorney general's office must review and approve the handling of the charitable assets and the price paid to acquire a not-for-profit hospital.
If the Landmark deal passes muster with the attorney general, the state Department of Health would then scrutinize the conversion in a separate review focusing on medical services.