1. It looks like 2023 is going to be yet another year of tumult for Rhode Island’s biggest hospitals. New financial filings reveal Lifespan and Care New England lost over $100 million combined this year, as relief money ran low while patient care remained disrupted by the pandemic and staffing shortages. That financial mess will now be the headache of two brand-new chief executives who are being transplanted from Boston: Mass. Eye and Ear CEO John Fernandez is taking charge at Lifespan, while Tufts Medicine’s Dr. Michael Wagner just took over at CNE. Lifespan is already looking to cut costs even before Fernandez arrives, with plans to close its outpatient facility in Wayland Square, while CNE is getting significant infusions of cash from Brown. The future of the hospitals matters for a host of reasons — they are the foundation of the state’s health care system, major employers, and engines of economic development through medical research. No doubt they will point all that out next year as they advocate on Smith Hill for higher Medicaid reimbursement rates, which were flagged by the attorney general as a key contributor to their financial woes. And they’re paying an army of lobbyists to help make the case, including two former House speakers — Nick Mattiello lobbies for Lifespan, and Bill Murphy lobbies for Care New England. Still, the two health systems will likely face pushback from rank-and-file lawmakers, a number of whom sounded off on social media after our Target 12 report revealing their chief executives got big pay hikes during the first year of the pandemic. “This is happening while nurses and frontline hospital workers are asked to give up their lives for a mere fraction of the income,” wrote Rep.-elect Megan Cotter. “We need to remember this when appropriating funds without oversight.”
2. Lifespan and Care New England dominate the hospital industry in Rhode Island — roughly three out of every four patients in Rhode Island went to one of their facilities in 2021. But they aren’t the only hospitals facing uncertainty right now. Prospect Medical Holdings recently announced plans to sell the two CharterCARE hospitals — Roger Williams Medical Center and Fatima Hospital — to Atlanta-based Centurion Foundation. That transaction comes as Prospect continues to face critical coverage of its business practices, with Attorney General Peter Neronha among those interviewed for a CBS News investigation into the company that aired this week.
3. The hospital CEOs’ big paydays at a time when their organizations have been under financial strain is giving fresh ammunition to Providence Mayor-elect Brett Smiley as he prepares to negotiate new payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements with Lifespan and Care New England. While the focus in Providence has historically been on how much Brown and the other colleges pay under such deals, negotiating with the hospitals has often been more challenging. But Smiley argues that if Lifespan could find nearly $4 million for its CEO amid a pandemic, it can also find more for Providence. “They have figured out how to bake into their financial structure what they think is fair and appropriate compensation — they need to also figure out how to bake into their financials what is an appropriate and fair payment to the city of Providence,” Smiley said on this week’s Newsmakers. “And if they can find money for pretty, at least for most Rhode Islanders and most Providence residents, expensive CEO pay, they can also figure out how to make a payment to the city of Providence.” In response, Lifespan spokesperson Jane Bruno told Tim White the health system has given the city an annual PILOT payment averaging over $350,000 during the last 12 years, but makes a year-to-year decision about whether it can afford to do so. “We look forward to working with Mayor Smiley in his new role,” she added.
4. Rhode Island saw $1.63 million worth of legal marijuana sold in the first week of December.
5. The issue of homelessness has been bedeviling blue-state leaders from coast to coast, and this week Governor McKee was the latest to struggle. McKee’s senior staffers were captured on video early Wednesday morning delivering notices to people living in tents outside the State House, giving them 48 hours to vacate the premises. Superior Court Judge David Cruise temporarily halted that order Friday after an outcry from advocates and the ACLU, giving the two sides more time to work out a solution. (This being Rhode Island, Cruise also happens to be McKee’s second cousin.) The tent situation drew extra attention to McKee’s so-far-unsuccessful effort to turn the Cranston Street Armory into a shelter, with The Globe’s Alexa Gagosz quoting service providers aghast at the state’s requirements and time frame. Appearing Friday on 12 News at 4, Crossroads CEO Karen Santilli told Kim Kalunian she has never seen Rhode Island’s homeless problem as bad as it is today. “There is not enough supply of services and shelter beds for what is being demanded by the numbers of people that are experiencing homelessness,” Santilli said. “At Crossroads our women’s shelter, our COVID overflow shelter, our warming center, our domestic violence shelter and our family shelter are all full. There are no available beds.” So what is the governor’s plan to address the problem? Here’s how McKee spokesperson Matt Sheaff summed it up: “The long-term strategy to combating homelessness is to build more housing (at all levels) which is what we are committed to doing with the $250 million budget investment — the short-term and immediate strategy is to provide resources (whether financial or legal) to keep Rhode Islanders in their homes that are facing housing instability and create more appropriate shelter that is person-centered.”
6. Rhode Island is effectively a city-state, so any solution to the housing shortage is going to involve an expanded supply in Providence. Mayor-elect Smiley made clear on Newsmakers he plans to push for just that, not least through the once-a-decade update in 2024 of Providence’s Comprehensive Plan for growth and development. “We need to absolutely allow for greater density,” he said. “There are places in Providence where you have a triple-decker that was built 100 years ago, and if that building got torn down you could not rebuild the same because of the zoning code. That’s crazy to me.” Smiley said he respects that some neighborhoods are anchored by single-family homes, “but places where there has always been dense multifamily housing should absolutely allow that.” Yet the incoming mayor thinks not just the zoning code, but also public attitudes, need to change. “We’ve got to get over some of this NIMBYism, the not-in-my-backyard approach to fighting new development in our city,” Smiley said. “We’re not Manhattan. We’ve got surface lots. We have vacant land for sale. We’ve got blighted or abandoned property. We have to make it easier to develop and build more housing at every possible price point.”
7. Steph Machado explains why the Providence Ethics Commission is dysfunctional.
8. After securing Longworth House Office Building #1218 in the freshman office lottery, Congressman-elect Seth Magaziner has begun filling out his staff. His chief of staff in D.C. will be Clay Schroers, who currently holds the same job with New Jersey’s Josh Gottheimer, and his deputy chief will be Jess Vaughn. In Rhode Island, Magaziner’s district director will be Christa Thompson, a Warwick schoolteacher who chairs the East Greenwich Democratic Committee. He is also retaining Julio Paz, who serves as director of constituent services for outgoing congressman Jim Langevin.
9. Former House Speaker Nick Mattiello will have his official state portrait unveiled at the State House on Tuesday afternoon, with his successor Joe Shekarchi serving as master of ceremonies, per a news advisory. The commission for the artwork went to Ben Aronson of Framingham, who also did previous speaker Bill Murphy’s state portrait.
10. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is seeking another term leading the GOP, but in the wake of the party’s midterm disappointment, multiple candidates have stepped forward to challenge her for the job. So far the three Rhode Islanders who have a vote on McDaniel’s future — state GOP chair Sue Cienki and National Committee members Steve Frias and Lee Ann Sennick — aren’t choosing sides. “We as a team have not committed to anyone yet and do not plan on doing so until we speak with each candidate that is seeking the office,” Cienki told me in an email. “We will then sit down as a team and talk about the choices.”
11. Massachusetts’ incoming state leaders have started announcing their transition teams, and a number of people from our region are on the lists. Gov.-elect Maura Healey has included five individuals from Southeastern Massachusetts on her slate: Thomas Anderson, superintendent of New Bedford schools; Fall River’s Ken Fiola of Bristol County Economic Development Consultants; Rayford Kruger, president and CEO of SouthCoast Health; Joanne Peterson, founder of Taunton-based addiction recovery group Learn to Cope; and Jeffrey Walker, executive director of the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District. There are also three locals serving on Attorney General-elect Andrea Campbell’s transition team: she’s tapped former New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang, former Fall River Mayor Ed Lambert and New Bedford Chamber of Commerce Chairman Tony Sapienza to help advise her.
12. With Democrats holding every local seat in Congress, it’s somewhat unusual to see them split on key votes. But that happened this week when Massachusetts Congressman Jake Auchincloss was the only one to vote against the annual defense policy bill known as the NDAA. In a news release issued by Auchincloss’s office that described him as the “only Democratic veteran” to vote against the bill, he said: “The Pentagon is the biggest bureaucracy in the world, and I have never seen a bureaucracy in business or government that could not do 10% more with 10% less. … I have always believed that the Pentagon should be spending smarter, not bigger. I cannot support this NDAA because it does not make progress on that front.” Intentional or not, that comment is a bit of a shot at Rhode Island’s Jack Reed, who was one of the architects of the $847 billion bill as chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Reed’s take on the defense measure: “This bill is an example of bipartisanship and it is critical for our troops, national security, and the economy. It wisely matches resources with strategic objectives and invests in providing our forces with an enduring advantage.”
13. The Providence Journal continues to struggle under the stewardship of Gannett, with news this week that the company had laid off the paper’s executive editor, David Ng. It comes as audit figures show The Journal’s print circulation has fallen to roughly 23,000 on weekdays and 29,000 on Sundays, with about 5,000 additional digital subscribers. The Journal’s newsroom still boasts a number of reporters whose stories help shape the news agenda, and it’s hardly the only metropolitan daily that has been unable to find its footing in the 21st Century. But the situation is deeply dismaying to Journal alums who worked at the paper in its heyday. As retired columnist M. Charles Bakst put it to me recently, “Some newspapers are dying. The Providence Journal is being murdered.”
14. Don’t miss this terrific Dan McGowan column on my friend and colleague Danielle North, who is stepping down as our morning anchor on 12 News. Congrats as well to another friend and colleague, Kait Walsh, on the announcement that she’ll be succeeding Danielle at the desk!
15. What does the 2022 election tell us about 2024? Ron Brownstein explains.
16. Ted Gioia lays out what’s gone wrong with Facebook.
17. Rachel Handler investigates whether falling asleep to TV is really so bad.
18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Providence Mayor-elect Brett Smiley. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12, or listen on the radio Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO. You can also subscribe to Newsmakers as a podcast on iTunes (or wherever you get your podcasts). See you back here next Saturday morning.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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 and Facebook