A plan for a merger between two Rhode Island healthcare systems owning more than a third of the states hospitals is getting a mixed reception from lawmakers, the healthcare community and residents.
Announced July 27, the coupling would bring together Lifespan and Care New England under the Lifespan banner. Collectively, the two systems own four of Rhode Islands 11 community hospitals (three other hospitals are also part of the deal) and claim some 1,645 patient beds and 17,000 employees. The proposed merger, which revisits a plan originally floated in the late 1990s, would strengthen the two not-for-profit providers financial bottom lines, said Care New England President and Chief Executive Officer John Hynes.
But not everyone is convinced the merger is a good idea, with some pointing to the potential effects on patient care, market control and staffing. Rhode Island state Sen. John Tassoni, a Democrat, said hes open to the merger idea, but approaches it cautiously. My thoughts are that we need to tread lightly on doing this, he offered. We have to do our due diligence during the hearings (required for approval) because if the merger happens, (Lifespan) will have a (virtual) monopoly.
Similarly, Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who needs to approve the deal, said in a written statement that his office plans to look at the antitrust and charitable trust implications of the merger.
Healthcare employees and their unions are also keeping a close eye on the deal. Currently workers at four of the facilities involved in the deal are represented by unions. Stan Israel, spokesman for District 1199 of the New England Health Care Employees Union representing workers at Care New Englands 117-bed Butler Hospital and 197-bed Women & Infants Hospital, both in Providence, said his membership is taking a wait-and-see attitude about the proposed merger. Were concerned about how (a larger hospital system) would affect the (financial) health of the surrounding smaller community hospitals where there are other union workers. We have a lot of concerns beyond the hospitals represented by this merger.
Insurers arent opposing the merger as of yet. Debora Spano, spokeswoman for UnitedHealthcare of New England, one of Rhode Islands three main insurers, said it was too early to comment on what effect a merger could have on health insurance in the state. A spokeswoman for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island expressed a similar opinion.
Despite the concerns, Lifespan President and CEO George Vecchione said that he believes the proposal, which must receive state and federal regulatory approval, will pass muster. Nine years ago, when we first looked at this combination, both Lifespan and Care New England were relatively young organizations, said Vecchione of the previous merger attempt.
Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri supports the new plan.