RI lawmakers eye faster process for Memorial Hospital takeover

Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – State lawmakers are considering a bill that would speed up the process for regulatory review of hospital mergers in Rhode Island, potentially easing the path for Landmark Medical Center’s owner to take over Memorial Hospital.

The bill – introduced this week in the Senate by Sen. Elizabeth Crowley and in the House by Rep. Raymond Johnston, both Blackstone Valley Democrats – “would streamline the procedure for the approval of mergers of nonprofit hospitals” under the Hospital Conversions Act, according to an official summary.

The Hospital Conversions Act, or HCA, was originally enacted in 1997 and sets out a stringent process for changes of ownership at hospitals. Supporters have said the tough rules are necessary for such important facilities, but health industry leaders have sometimes suggested the process is too slow and cumbersome.

A separate summary accompanying the House version of the bill says it would exempt from review “any hospital which had a previously approved conversion and where the acquiree operates a hospital or hospital system determined to still be distressed.” That language appears to cover Memorial, which has been owned by Care New England since 2013 but is now set to be acquired by Landmark owner Prime HealthCare after years of losses.

The Senate Health & Human Services Committee is scheduled to take up the bill on Thursday afternoon. Its chairman, Sen. Josh Miller, suggested the legislation has been narrowly tailored with an eye on ensuring the success of Memorial’s transfer to Prime.

“It’s an important transaction that we want the HCA to accommodate if it can, without permanently diminishing the impact of a good HCA,” Miller said in a brief interview. Further changes to the bill language are still possible, he said.

Care New England announced the Memorial transaction on April 19, the same day it said the rest of its hospitals would be acquired by Partners HealthCare, the largest hospital group in Massachusetts. Memorial lost $32 million last year.

Jim Beardsworth, a spokesman for Care New England, expressed appreciation for the lawmakers’ efforts.

“If successful, it represents the most positive outcome for a critical community resource which has been experiencing extremely challenging circumstances for a number of years,” he said of the Memorial transaction. “Passage of these bills would result in a careful and thorough, yet timely and expeditious review process, serving to safeguard the continuity of acute care services for this community while providing continued opportunity for the staff of Memorial Hospital.”

The House has not yet scheduled a hearing on the bill.

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 and Facebook

An earlier version of this story listed the bill’s House sponsor incorrectly.