PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – When the news broke Tuesday that Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket will close, many state and local officials were left with a sour taste in their mouths.
Care New England’s board voted Monday night to close the hospital for good after a proposed takeover deal for the cash-strapped facility fell through.
The hospital has been financially strugging for a decade, losing $23 million in the last year alone. Care New England, which took over the hospital in 2013, reached a deal earlier this year to spin off Memorial to Prime Healthcare, owner of Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket.
But after months of talks, the deal apparently collapsed over the last two weeks with the two sides unable to come to terms.
“I don’t know what broke down in negotiations between Prime and Care New England,” state Sen. Elizabeth Crowley, who represents parts of Central Falls and Pawtucket, told Eyewitness News.
Earlier this year, Crowley successfully sponsored legislation that would speed up the state’s process to approve mergers of nonprofit hospitals, in an effort to help get the Prime-Memorial deal through. She called Monday night’s board decision a slap in the face.
“If I knew that not more than two months later, this was happening, I would have never sponsored that legislation,” she said.
Crowley stressed that Memorial’s closing not only affects its employees and patients, but the entire Blackstone Valley community.
Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien was similarly upset by the news.
“I am extremely disappointed in this decision by Care New England to abandon our community hospital during their transactions, putting their agreement with Partners above the one with Prime,” he said in a statement, adding that he is considering legal action.
Eyewitness News caught up with Grebien on Tuesday night after he met with Gov. Gina Raimondo about the situation. He said his main concern is the assets Care New England depleted from the hospital in the leadup to the transaction, saying those should be rerouted to the hospital.
“We have a stake in the game,” he said, “and those assets need to come back here before they are sold to somebody else.”
Mayor Grebien said he feels misled by Care New England, and said he no longer feels the company and the city are partners.
Care New England officials, however, insist that the hospital’s problems began long before they took over its operations in 2013 and that it is closing because of the very low patient population.
Grebien said that he plans to speak with Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office on Wednesday about possible legal action to recoup Memorial’s assets.
In a statement Tuesday night, Kilmartin said he was “deeply disappointed” by Care New England’s decision to close Memorial. Kilmartin, a Democrat, represented Pawtucket in the Rhode Island House before becoming attorney general.
Kilmartin said that while under state law the R.I. Department of Health must review the Memorial closure proposal, “our office is in contact with Care New England to learn more about this decision and the impact it will have on the dedicated staff of the hospital. We will review this decision very closely to determine what role our office may have in this process.”
Also reacting on Tuesday night was Prospect CharterCARE, owner of Roger Williams Medical Center and Fatima Hospital, which bid to take over Care New England earlier this year.
“We recognize that Care New England is now faced with difficult decisions as it looks to the future,” the company said in a statement. “CharterCARE Health Partners, and its hospitals, stand ready as a viable and quality partner to work with CNE to preserve local access to key health care services and to keep health care jobs in Rhode Island.”
Lt. Gov. Dan McKee similarly hinted that alternatives should be examined.
“We owe it to the city of Pawtucket and state of Rhode Island to revisit all serious offers that keep Memorial Hospital’s doors open,” McKee said. “This approach would preserve industry talent, protect jobs and promote maintaining health care services in Rhode Island.”
McKee also said the state should be seeking “the best possible buyer” for the rest of Care New England, which is currently trying to finalize a deal to be taken over by Partners HealthCare, Massachusetts’ largest hospital group. He said the hospitals need “a buyer that will support Rhode Island interests and prevent a brain and job drain from Rhode Island to neighboring states.”