Raimondo huddles with Lifespan, CNE chiefs for first merger meeting

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo has wasted no time in acting on her commitment to shepherd new merger talks between Lifespan and Care New England.

The Democratic governor convened an initial meeting of the leaders of the two hospital groups as well as Brown University on Wednesday “to begin discussions of the process for creating a strong, integrated Rhode Island hospital system,” Raimondo spokesperson Josh Block told WPRI 12.

The meeting came one day after Raimondo made a consequential intervention in the ongoing battle over the future of Rhode Island’s hospitals, throwing her weight behind another bid to combine Rhode Island’s two top hospital groups into one dominant provider. Two previous efforts to merge Lifespan, whose flagship is Rhode Island Hospital, and CNE, whose flagship is Women & Infants, have failed.

“What Rhode Island ought to have is our own, locally managed, high-quality, affordable, integrated, Rhode Island-based academic medical center,” Raimondo told reporters Tuesday. “And for whatever reasons, it’s never been able to happen — personalities, clash of cultures.”

“And so what I’m saying to the parties is, let’s put all that aside, let’s put any history aside, and let’s come to the table and keep our eye on what’s best for Rhode Island,” she said. “Let’s forget about the past and look at the vision, and see if we can’t come together and have the strongest possible locally-based system that we can have.”

Raimondo’s move led Partners HealthCare, the Boston-based giant that owns Mass. General and Brigham & Women’s, to abruptly abandon its two-year effort to take over Care New England. Partners’ interim CEO said the organization would be willing to look at a Rhode Island acquisition later if and when Lifespan and CNE join forces.

Separately on Wednesday, Partners and Care New England informed bondholders they had taken the formal step of terminating the affiliation agreement the two organizations signed back in May 2018, effective immediately.

Block said Wednesday’s meeting, held in a Department of Administration conference room, was attended by Raimondo, Lifespan President and CEO Dr. Timothy Babineau, Care New England President and CEO Dr. James Fanale and Brown University President Christina Paxson.

“The parties will continue to meet regularly throughout the summer,” Block said. (At the end of a news conference Tuesday about the hospital talks, Raimondo joked to reporters, “You know what we’ll be doing in July.”)

Spokespersons for the hospital companies and Brown declined to discuss how the closed-door meeting went. “At this point all of the partners are focused on having productive talks and we will not be doing interviews during this process,” Lifespan spokesperson Jane Bruno told WPRI 12.

All three organizations directed further questions to the governor’s office.

Raimondo is not the first governor in recent history to prioritize a Lifespan-CNE tie-up.

Shortly before he left office, former Gov. Lincoln Chafee said one of the biggest regrets of his tenure was failing to convince the two groups to renew their merger talks, citing what he witnessed on a trip to the thriving University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“I came back from those trips and [thought], we’ve got to get Lifespan and Care New England, our two big health care providers, down the aisle, get married, exchange your vows, and why not join forces instead of competing?” Chafee said on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers in December 2014.

“It just makes sense to me, instead of them competing in this small state, to join together and join forces,” he added.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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