PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Partners HealthCare and Care New England are asking the R.I. Department of Health to conduct a speedier review of their high-profile merger, as the two hospital companies inch closer to completing the proposed transaction.
Partners, the giant Boston-based owner of Brigham & Women’s and Mass. General, announced in April 2016 it planned to acquire Care New England, Rhode Island’s No. 2 hospital group and the owner of Women & Infants, Kent and Butler. The process has moved slowly, partly due to the struggles of Memorial Hospital, which Care New England wound up closing late last year.
On Wednesday, Partners and Care New England filed a request with the Department of Health for an expedited review under the Hospital Conversions Act, the state law governing hospital transactions. If approved, the department would be required to make a decision within 90 days rather than 120, and less documentation would need to be filed.
State law allows expedited reviews for the sale of hospitals suffering economically. In its request, Care New England cited its ongoing operating losses, limited cash on hand, relatively high liabilities, and low bond rating. The company has faced challenges in recent years, notably after its ill-fated 2013 purchase of Memorial, though CEO Dr. James Fanale has expressed confidence it is now on the right track.
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for the health department, said past requests for expedited reviews have generally been approved or denied within two weeks.
The companies have not yet filed the extensive paperwork required under the Hospital Conversions Act for the department to actually do its review. In a statement, Partners and Care New England said they expected to provide the documents “in the coming weeks.” They will also need to win approval from federal and Massachusetts regulators.
The expedited-review request came one day after the two sides announced they had signed a memorandum of understanding with Brown University cementing the position of Brown’s medical school as Care New England’s primary academic partner. Partners has close ties with Harvard University, and Brown’s leaders had expressed concern about their future relationship with a Partners-owned CNE.
“This agreement sets us on a clear path for achieving Brown’s goals of a partnership that will enhance the quality of clinical care, generate biomedical research that improves population health and fuel economic development in Rhode Island,” Brown President Christina Paxson, who will be joining the Care New England board, said in a statement.
A formal Partners-CNE-Brown agreement will be negotiated in the coming weeks. The announcement indicates Partners has allayed the concerns that had earlier led Paxson to offer an alternative bid for CNE with Prospect Medical Holdings, the California-based owner of Fatima Hospital and Roger Williams Medical Center.
Meanwhile, Partners and Care New England say they are still in talks with Lifespan, the owner of Rhode Island Hospital and the state’s biggest hospital system, about some sort of future collaboration. The three organizations “share a mutual desire to improve access, quality and efficiency of care for all Rhode Islanders,” Partners and CNE said.
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