Brown U., Prospect mulling bid to buy Care New England hospital group

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Brown University and Prospect Medical Holdings are in serious talks about making an alternative bid to buy Care New England, Rhode Island’s second-largest hospital system, Eyewitness News has learned.

Multiple sources close to the situation confirmed the potential joint venture between the Ivy League school and the California for-profit company, which already has a majority stake in Roger Williams Medical Center and its sister facilities. They cautioned that the outcome of the talks remains uncertain due to the complexity and sensitivity of the discussions.

One source said the proposal could be presented as an option if Care New England fails in its current efforts to merge with Partners HealthCare, Massachusetts’ largest hospital group. Care New England’s hospitals include Women & Infants, Kent and Butler.

Brian Clark, a spokesman for Brown, declined to discuss the talks with Prospect.

“Care New England has been an important partner, so of course we are concerned about its future,” Clark told Eyewitness News. “We certainly are considering what the options would be if the Partners HealthCare deal were not to succeed, but we are not at a point where we feel it’s appropriate to publicly share ideas and concepts. It simply would be premature.”

A spokesperson for Prospect had no immediate comment. A Care New England spokesman said the company, which agreed in April to negotiate exclusively with Partners, has not been approached by Brown and Prospect.

Spokespersons for Gov. Gina Raimondo, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio did not respond to emails asking whether they had been briefed about the proposal.

While details remained limited on Wednesday, such an effort by Brown and Prospect would make waves in the local medical and educational sectors if it comes to fruition.

Brown is unusual among top-tier medical schools because it does not own hospitals, and a bid for Care New England would see the university dip its toes into those waters. It would also give Prospect a much more prominent role in Rhode Island health care. And it could put pressure on Care New England’s board to consider the option as a way to avoid its hospitals passing into entirely out-of-state ownership.

Care New England is one of the state’s largest employers, but it has lost more than $100 million over the last two years, partly due to its ill-fated 2013 acquisition of Memorial Hospital. The company is now seeking to close the struggling Pawtucket facility ahead of the proposed Partners takeover, which has been moving slowly since it was announced last spring.

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