AG Neronha: ‘I’m not here to be a cheerleader’ for hospital mega-deal

Business News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Attorney General Peter Neronha signaled Wednesday his office plans to do a thorough review of the newly announced proposal to create an academic health system that would bring together Rhode Island’s biggest hospitals.

The state’s two biggest hospital groups, Lifespan and Care New England, announced Tuesday they have signed a deal to merge after months of negotiations and the failure of three previous attempts. Brown University plans to invest at least $125 million in the new health system on behalf of its medical school.

Neronha’s office is one of three government agencies that will need to sign off on the plan, along with the R.I. Department of Health and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Executives at the three organizations told 12 News they want the deal done by the end of the year.

“I’m one of the regulators who will be evaluating that transaction, so in that role I’m not here to be a cheerleader for it,” Neronha told 12 News.

“My job is to analyze it and to make sure that it meets the criteria that it needs to meet for us to approve it — or approve it with conditions, or ultimately not approve it, if that’s what is best for Rhode Islanders,” he said.

Lifespan is owner of Rhode Island, Miriam, Newport and Bradley hospitals, while Care New England owns Women & Infants, Kent and Butler. Together they are two of the state’s largest employers, with roughly 23,000 workers, and take in billions of dollars in revenue a year. Brown operates Rhode Island’s only medical school.

Lifespan President and CEO Dr. Tim Babineau argues the merger will benefit patients in addition to spurring economic development.

“Quality will go up,” Babineau said in a video released Tuesday. “The care they receive will be even better than it is today, and it’s pretty darn good today.”

Neronha said the effect on patients will be front of mind for him, examining whether the deal will lead to “quality, accessible, affordable health care.”

“The question for me will be, using those broad principles, will this transaction achieve it, or won’t it?” he said. “And exactly what is it about this transaction, what steps do we need to take, to ensure that if it is approved, that the conditions around that transaction are such that we can achieve those three broad purposes.”

Babineau said Tuesday the hospitals expect to file the required paperwork in the coming weeks and hope the process will be done “effectively,” though he also stressed they are “very cognizant not to get ahead of the regulators.”

The attorney general did not offer a timeline for how long he expects the regulatory review process to take beyond saying it would take place “over the next several months.”

“There’s going to be a lot of steps along the way,” Neronha said. “There’s a lot of information we have to get. There will be a chance for a lot of input from the people, people who are concerned about this transaction.”

He added, “Obviously, it’s an important issue, but we’ve got to make sure that we get it right.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook

Gina Marini contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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