Brown U. president steps off CNE board while Lifespan fights Partners deal

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Brown University President Christina Paxson has temporarily stepped down from Care New England’s board, less than a year after joining it, as Lifespan mounts a public campaign to block Partners HealthCare from taking over the company.

Brown spokesperson Brian Clark confirmed that Paxson was given a leave of absence by CNE’s other directors, telling WPRI 12 she will stay off the board “until the state issues a decision on Partners’ application.”

Paxson is a pivotal figure in the machinations over Rhode Island’s second-largest hospital group, which owns Women & Infants, Kent and Butler. Initially an outspoken skeptic about giving Partners control of Care New England, Paxson came around last year after Partners executives made a public commitment to academic medicine in Rhode Island. She joined the CNE board as part of that agreement.

In recent weeks, however, top hospital group Lifespan has come out swinging against the Partners-CNE deal. Lifespan wants state leaders to push for a merger of Lifespan and Care New England that would also involve Brown’s medical school.

“Lifespan’s public opposition to the Partners deal has placed many of Brown’s medical faculty, who are physicians in both the Lifespan and CNE systems, in the uncomfortable position of having to take sides,” Clark said. “During this period, Paxson feels that she can’t represent all Brown medical faculty while serving as an active member of the CNE board.”

Jim Beardsworth, a spokesperson for Care New England, expressed no concern about Paxson’s decision.

“The Care New England Board of Directors fully supports President Paxson’s request for this leave,” he said in an email. “CNE is fortunate to have her leadership and unique perspective in helping to guide the future of our organization and health care in Rhode Island. We look forward to welcoming President Paxson back to the board soon.”

When Lifespan first announced its public campaign against the Partners-CNE deal last month, Paxson expressed doubts about whether a third attempt to merge the two Rhode Island groups would be successful. However, during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers on Friday, Lifespan President and CEO Dr. Timothy Babineau suggested she would come around.

“I think if you ask Chris Paxson now she would strongly prefer what we’re advocating for, which is an in-state unified academic health care system,” Babineau said. “Brown’s the big beneficiary. Their medical school gets instantly better if the team from Lifespan and the team from Care New England are suddenly playing on the same team. That helps the med school.”

Paxson has shown interest in a Lifespan-CNE merger in the past: when Partners first announced the planned acquisition, she approached Babineau to suggest they join forces on an alternative bid, but Lifespan was not interested at the time. Brown instead made a since-abandoned offer for CNE in partnership with Prospect Medical Holdings.

Asked why he didn’t work with Paxson back then, Babineau said, “This is complicated. But we have been at the table with Brown on and off over the years. … We were trying to work through the details, and again, because of market dynamics, we couldn’t quite get this thing nailed down and get to yes.”

“That’s water under the bridge,” he added.

The R.I. Department of Health and the attorney general’s office will not begin their formal review of the Partners-CNE deal until they deem the two organizations’ application complete. Officials have offered no timeline for when they expect to move forward with the process.

Ted Nesi ( covers politics and the economy for He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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