Lifespan defends bid for Care New England

Rhode Island Hospital

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – In an unusual move, the head of Rhode Island’s largest hospital network on Thursday publicly defended his bid to take over the state’s second-largest hospital network.

Lifespan President and CEO Dr. Timothy Babineau was discussing its latest effort to join forces with Care New England, which has been struggling financially and saw a planned merger with New Bedford’s Southcoast Health Group collapse last year. Rhode Island Hospital is Lifespan’s flagship facility, while Women & Infants is Care New England’s.

“We have submitted what we think is a very compelling, visionary and fair-minded proposal to Care New England,” Babineau told Eyewitness News in a statement, echoing a similar comment he made in an interview published Thursday.

“We believe that such a comprehensive health care system would enhance the clinical and academic missions of both institutions, resulting in better and more cost-effective care for patients in Rhode Island and the region,” Babineau said.

Asked whether his comments were a sign Care New England isn’t taking Lifespan up on its offer, Babineau demurred. “We honestly do not know where CNE is in their process nor if they are narrowing their search,” he said.

James Beardsworth, a spokesman for Care New England, acknowledged Lifespan’s interest but made clear the No. 2 hospital network is looking at other options, too.

“While Lifespan is among a number of local, regional and national health care organizations to be involved in this important process, the Care New England board remains engaged in a confidential and deliberative review related to the selection of a system partner,” Beardsworth said in a statement.

“We are not at the point where we are able to make a public announcement currently, but expect we will be able to share more information soon,” he added. The Care New England board’s last regularly scheduled meeting was March 24.

Care New England President and CEO Dennis Keefe said in late February his team was “moving very, very quickly” to secure a new merger partner. He said an initial list of 12 possible partners included Lifespan, Brown University and Prospect Medical Holdings, the for-profit that now owns Roger Williams Medical Center.

Lifespan and Care New England, the state’s two largest private employers, have tried to merge twice before but wound up scrapping the idea both times. The two hospital groups’ revenue totaled more than $3 billion combined last year.

Also weighing in Thursday was SEIU District 1199NE, a union that represents more than 2,200 Care New England employees at Women & Infants and Butler hospitals. Patrick J. Quinn, the union’s executive vice-president, said there are “lots of rumors” circulating about who might take over the hospital group.

“We have opposed past attempts by Lifespan and Care New England to merge, and I am certain that our members would have many concerns about one massive entity controlling nearly all hospital services and employment in the state – but it’s hard to take a position on something that we currently have such limited information about,” Quinn said.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram