Partners HealthCare, CNE sign definitive agreement

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Partners HealthCare and Care New England Health System announced Wednesday the signing of a definitive agreement formalizing Partners’ planned acquisition of Care New England (CNE). Kent in Warwick is a CNE hospital.

The release asserts that, “The affiliation will help ensure that high-quality, affordable care remains available through the CNE institutions for the people of Rhode Island.”

“Today marks an important milestone for Rhode Island health care,” said Care New England President and CEO James E. Fanale, MD, in the release. “Care New England has made significant progress in the last year to strengthen our financial outlook, and now while we will work through this important regulatory process, I am confident our affiliation with Partners will help us further invest in quality local care for the community, building upon the tremendous successes already in place.”

“We believe that this partnership will further strengthen an already robust local health care system and provide opportunities for new investments in patient care, research and health care innovation in Rhode Island,” said David F. Torchiana, MD, President and CEO, Partners HealthCare.

The release states that through the merger, the healthcare systems hope to build on “the existing clinical relationships between the parties, ensuring ongoing clinical research and educational collaboration in support of the parties’ charitable missions, enabling the organizations to more efficiently use their resources, and establishing effective and expanded approaches to population health management.”

“On behalf of the Care New England board, we are extremely pleased to reach this agreement today,” said Charles R. Reppucci, chair, CNE Board of Directors. “We are excited about the opportunities this presents for CNE and Partners, but perhaps even more importantly for patients and their families in our state and the region.”

CNE has maintained a working relationship with Partners HealthCare since 2009 through a clinical affiliation with Brigham and Women’s Hospital (a founding member of Partners) in cardiology and vascular, thoracic and colorectal surgery. In addition, there has been a relationship between McLean Hospital (a Partners hospital) and Care New England’s Butler Hospital to provide behavioral health care and innovative research locally within the Rhode Island community.

“Partners has enjoyed a decade-long relationship with Care New England that’s brought specialized Brigham Health services to patients right here in Rhode Island,” said Brigham Health President Elizabeth Nabel, MD. “Our agreement today will solidify our collaboration, deepen that commitment to quality local care, and will also mean new investments in Brown University-led research, with the important goal of continuing to strengthen the relationship with The Warren Alpert Medical School.”

Brown University President Christina Paxson, who back in January issued a critical letter of the proposed merger as potentially driving patients away from Rhode Island and into Massachusetts – while simultaneously proposing that Brown/Prospect Healthcare might acquire CNE – gave a more measured take following the news on Wednesday.

“Preserving and strengthening health care and biomedical research and innovation in Rhode Island continues to be an important priority,” Paxson said. “As Brown’s discussions with Partners and Care New England continue, I am optimistic that we can address the various concerns that I raised earlier this year.”

“Brown has a long and productive partnership with Care New England, and the continued success of Care New England is important to the University and to the people of Rhode Island,” Paxson continued. “Brown will continue to support collaboration among organizations dedicated to serving the health needs of Rhode Islanders and economic development in the state.”

The news of an agreement comes after more than a year of negotiations between CNE and Partners. CNE agreed to a letter of intent with Partners, a Boston-based healthcare system, in April of 2017.

As of the Beacon’s press time on Wednesday, Rhode Island Department of Health spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said that the department had not yet received formal applications of a merger between the two, which would require approval from the state to move forward.

The release indicated that discussions of potentially including Lifespan in the merger – though in what capacity that would entail is not immediately clear – were ongoing.

“Partners and CNE invited Lifespan to the affiliation conversations earlier this year because the parties share a mutual desire to improve access, quality, and efficiency of care for all Rhode Islanders,” the release reads.

Patrick J. Quinn, Executive Vice President of the District 1199 SEIU New England health workers labor union, issued a cautiously neutral stance on the news.

“Our membership looks forward to reviewing the details of the proposed merger application between Care New England and Partners Health Care as it goes through the regulatory process,” he said in a statement. “Any plan for a health system to merge must ensure access to high quality health care for Rhode Island patients and good jobs for hospital workers.”

The news also garnered some quick negative response.

“A Partners acquisition of Care New England will be devastating for Rhode Island healthcare consumers, employers and insurance providers. Rhode Island regulators have already rung the alarm bell that Partners will use their market leverage to increase reimbursement rates if this merger moves forward,” said Bill Fischer, spokesperson for CharterCARE. “The mere contemplation of this merger has already cost Rhode Islanders hundreds of jobs with the closure of Memorial hospital, and left thousands of residents in the Blackstone Valley with inadequate access to emergency room care.”

“It has been more than a year since Partners and CNE announced their intent to merge and yet again today no details have been provided to the general public explaining how any of this will work,” Fischer continued.

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