Rhode Island is renowned for its beaches, historic places, the mansions of Newport and its great restaurants – it’s a destination for tourists whether they arrive by car, train, plane or cruise ship.
Now Representative Joseph McNamara is looking to put the Ocean State on the map for its medical services and to do it, he’s introduced legislation that would open the doors for “domestic medical tourism.” If approved, the legislation could conceivably also bring a significant company to Warwick, creating 75 jobs and a nucleus to more development in the station district, which as of late last year is City Centre Warwick.
“They want to be in that area,” McNamara said Tuesday of the Laser Spine Institute based in Tampa, Fla. The attraction, he said, is the close proximity of Boston and New York. And what appeals to them about Warwick is the confluence of the airport, highways and rail and the presence of support facilities, including hotels and restaurants. The institute advertises extensively and patients from across the country and the globe book procedures that keep patients in an area for three or four days. Often they are accompanied by friends and family so the impact to the local economy would be multiplied.
But McNamara doesn’t see the institute, or other companies specializing in certain medical procedures, coming to Rhode Island under existing conditions.
What he says needs to happen is a revision to the certificate of need process run by the Department of Health. Medical service providers would still need to be licensed, but McNamara is looking to establish a domestic medical tourism classification that would apply to companies where 50 percent or fewer of their clients were from in state. The bill would provide for an exemption of the certificate of need requirement under certain circumstances for domestic medical tourism and multi-practice health facilities. It would also provide for an expeditious review process requiring a decision within 30 days; reduce the health services council that oversees the certificate process from 24 to 12 members and place a moratorium on all new health care services and equipment until July 2015. During the moratorium, the Department of Health would prepare a statewide health care plan and inventory of health care facilities, equipment and health services.
Spurring McNamara’s efforts is the experience he has had with Pentec Health, a Boothwyn, Pa.-based company that had been looking to locate in Rhode Island. The company specializes in supporting patients with implanted intrathecal pumps. Its nursing team is specially trained to assess and treat, via doctors’ orders, patients with Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, spinal cord injury, stroke, reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), failed back syndrome, and cancer pain.
The company was providing services to several Rhode Islanders and wanted to open an office here. Pentec was directed to obtain a certificate of need, which it set off to do. At the direction of the state, it opened a Rhode Island office. It appeared at three hearings and after waiting for seven months without a decision and spending $100,000, it withdrew its license application and ended its services in Rhode Island.
McNamara was appalled by the manner in which Pentec and its executive Michael Abens were treated.
It prompted McNamara, who chairs the Health Welfare and Education Committee, to have the committee look into the certificate of need process. The legislation came out of those hearings.
McNamara believes the measure opens a path for domestic medical tourism companies to do business in the state, “all the while addressing our first and foremost concern – to guarantee that Rhode Islanders receive the kind of medical services they need, and that government red tape or administrative sluggishness does not get in the way.”