Debate Continues Over Expedited Hospital Merger Proposal

Jun 13, 2017

A state Senate bill aiming to streamline the merger and acquisition process for nonprofit hospitals is scheduled for a vote in the Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday. The bill, which would amend the Hospital Conversions Act, has sparked debate between lawmakers and hospital union workers.

The legislation is meant to expedite a proposed sale of Care New England’s Pawtucket-based Memorial Hospital to California’s Prime Healthcare.

Care New England is the state’s second largest hospital group. In May, it reported a $40 million operating loss in the first half of the fiscal year. One of the group’s poor performers was Memorial Hospital. The hospital group hopes to sell Memorial and merge with Boston-based Partners HealthCare. 

As it stands, a regulatory review of a conversion needs to be completed within 120 days. The proposal would cut the review process to 90 days if the acquiring company has operated at least one hospital for a minimum of three years.

Two local health care unions oppose cutting down the review process. They expressed concern that the legislation could undermine current protections in the Hospital Conversions Act.

Patrick Quinn is the executive vice president for District 1199 SEIU New England, one of the unions against the bill.

“While we support distressed non-profit hospitals like Memorial being able to access the expedited review process, we feel the current version of the pending legislation is overly broad and could undermine critical protections under the Hospital Conversion Act," Quinn said in a statement.

United Nurses & Allied Professionals spokesman Ray Sullivan said the union has reservations about undoing regulatory oversight.

“Any legislation that could have a wide-sweeping impact on health care delivery in Rhode Island should be meticulously scrutinized,” said Sullivan.

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said the proposed change would not hamper his department’s ability to conduct a review of mergers.  Conversions need his department’s approval as well as the state Department of Health’s.