Neighbors Emergency Center to close West Warwick location, blames Blue Cross

Neighbors Emergency Center / West Warwick, R.I.

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s first freestanding emergency department is scheduled to close on Aug. 4, Target 12 has learned.

Neighbors Emergency Center in West Warwick opened last November following a lengthy licensing process through the R.I. Department of Health. It opened just a few months after Rhode Island leaders enacted a new law to regulate such facilities.

Dr. Setul Patel, the CEO of the Houston-based company, said more than 30 full-time and part-time employees will lose their jobs.

Patel said the company has also scrapped plans to open a Neighbors Emergency Center in Bristol.

“Rhode Island has proved to be the most difficult state to do business that I have ever seen,” Patel told Target 12 during a phone call Wednesday afternoon.

“The sole cause for the closure is a non-cooperation of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island,” Patel said. “We came into this market to provide value-added emergency care. We were willing to do it at a cheaper price than the hospital, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island has basically told us they do not recognize our center as an emergency department.”

“They gave us urgent care rates,” Patel said. “We are not an urgent care facility. We provide life-saving treatment – heart attack, stroke, and major fractures.”

Patel declined to put an exact dollar amount on what he believes BCBSRI owes Neighbors Emergency Center, but said it is “in the millions.”

“Quite frankly, what they’re doing is illegal,” Patel added.

Jill Flaxington, a spokesperson for Blue Cross, responded to Patel’s claims in an email to Target 12:

To keep health care affordable for our customers, BCBSRI must ensure that all of our contracts with providers are fair and financially sustainable. While the law requires us to reimburse out-of-network hospital emergency departments comparable to in-network emergency department rates, because Neighbors Emergency Center is not a hospital it is subject to a different reimbursement. We offered Neighbors Emergency Center an in-network provider contract, but we did not receive a response. We remain open to entering into an in-network contract that ensures affordability for Blue Cross customers.

The federal government does not recognize freestanding emergency departments and will not reimburse costs for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

“Lots of states have freestanding emergency centers,” Patel said. “It’s the wave of the future. It’s just not the wave of the future in Rhode Island.”

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.