Brown University throws wrench in Partners’ plans to acquire Care New England

Brown University President Christina Paxson said the merger between Partners and Care New England would be wrong for the state and the university. (Pixabay/geralt)

If the planned merger between Partners HealthCare and Care New England Health System doesn’t work out, Brown University is interested in acquiring the Rhode Island health system.

Indeed, the university, one of the state’s largest employers, said it is working with a California for-profit hospital chain on an alternative proposal to create an integrated health system to ensure Rhode Island residents have access to high-quality, affordable healthcare. 

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Care New England announced in April that it decided to align with Partners after reviewing 12 potential offers. The two health systems signed a letter of intent in April to discuss a merger. The acquisition would include five Care New England facilities: Kent Hospital in Warwick; Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island in Providence; VNA of Care New England in Warwick; Butler Hospital in Providence; and the Providence Center, which has multiple locations.

But in a campus-wide letter, Brown University President Christina Paxson said the merger between Partners and Care New England would be wrong for the state and the university.

“Doing so is likely to lead to specialty healthcare shifting to Massachusetts, impeding access to healthcare for Rhode Islanders and especially for members of the state’s underserved communities. It also would likely increase the cost of care and reduce the ability of Rhode Islanders—consumers, businesses, healthcare workers and policy-makers—to have a voice in how our healthcare system works,” she said.

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Paxson said that if Rhode Island healthcare shifts to Boston, many Brown-trained physicians would be less likely to stay and practice in the Ocean State. “In addition, the full economic benefits of a strong local academic health system—one that brings in federal grants, generates spin-off companies and creates new jobs in Rhode Island—would be lost, perhaps forever,” she said.

To prevent the merger, the university announced it was working with Prospect Medical Holdings on an alternative plan to keep Care New England services in Rhode Island. The proposal would have Brown University or a nonprofit subsidiary of Brown acquire Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island and Prospect would acquire Kent Hospital and nonhospital assets, such as The Providence Center community health organization.

The plan would call for either Brown or Prospect to acquire Butler Hospital (with Brown having the right to decide). Medical school faculty at Women & Infants, Butler and Kent would be invited to either join a Brown faculty practice plan or become Brown employees. Paxson said that Brown would reinvest the majority of any operating margins in clinical care, medical research and education.

The university has not been able to discuss the alternative proposal with Care New England because of the health system's exclusive arrangement with Partners. If the Partners-Care New England merger moves forward, Paxson said the university will work with Partners to maintain the positive relationship it has had with Care New England.

In a statement to the Boston Business Journal, Care New England said it is moving forward with its discussions to merge with Partners. “While we appreciate their interest in the future of healthcare in Rhode Island, we will move forward with the important process we have set upon the best interest of both CNE and those we care for,” a Care New England spokesman told the newspaper.