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Partners Backs Out Of Rhode Island Expansion At Governor's Request, For Now

Partners HealthCare at Assembly Row in Somerville (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Partners HealthCare at Assembly Row in Somerville (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Partners HealthCare says it is withdrawing efforts to acquire Care New England, the second-largest health care network in Rhode Island.

The move comes at the request of Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, who says she wants the two top health care networks in her state and Brown University to resume efforts to create a more unified, local system.

"Over the past several months I have increasingly heard from a number of stakeholders and understand the appeal of a locally-run, academic medical center based in Rhode Island," Raimondo, a Democrat, said in an emailed statement. "Whether or not Rhode Island affiliates with a larger system at some point, I believe creating a more integrated, locally-run, academic structure first is what’s in the best interest of Rhode Islanders now and in the long run.”

Partners interim president and CEO, Dr. Anne Klibanski, said Partners leaves open the option of a future deal.

"We look forward to reengaging at the appropriate time – especially with a fully integrated local system," said Klibanski. "We greatly value our relationship in Rhode Island and want to do what’s best for the state and its citizens."

Raimondo's call to reconvene negotiations within Rhode Island follows a stormy period for Partners and the three parties Raimondo is bringing to the table.

Partners and Care New England, which includes Women and Infants Hospital, signed an agreement in May 2018, beating out a bid from Brown to merge with CNE. Within months, the three players signed a tentative agreement that included placing Brown's president on the Care New England board.

Less than a year later, Brown's president announced a leave of absence from that position.

Against this backdrop, Partners was also in talks to merge with Lifespan, Rhode Island's largest hospital network. That deal fell apart in October 2018 and contributed to the resignation of Partners' CEO three months later.

Lifespan launched an ad campaign this spring that claimed a Partners-Care New England deal would be "devastating" for Rhode Island.

There's a history of merger attempts and failures between Lifespan and Care New England, whose flagship hospitals sit within a stone's throw of each other in Providence. In this round, two organizations, The Rhode Island Foundation and The Partnership for Rhode Island, will help finance consultants to facilitate talks.

“We are pleased that the Governor has taken this important first step to achieve a vision that has eluded the state for more than two decades," said Dr. Timothy Babineau, president and CEO of Lifespan, and Lawrence Aubin, chair of Lifespan's board of directors. "We are confident that with the good faith efforts of all the parties involved, we will finally achieve the vision of unified academic health care system.”

Care New England's CEO, Dr. James Fanale, said in a statement that he respects the value of a unified Rhode Island system.

"To that end, we have agreed to further explore the feasibility of this option and will begin discussions in earnest immediately because it is simply too important for Rhode Island’s future,” Fanale said.

He added that Care New England will maintain existing clinical affiliations with Brigham and Women's Hospital and McLean, both of which are owned by Partners.

Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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