Partners, Care New England move ahead with merger plans

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A definitive agreement between Partners and Care New England would outline the details and plans for the actual transaction and then seek necessary state and federal regulatory approvals. (Getty/Martin Barraud)

Perhaps the threat that another buyer was in the wings was enough to push Partners HealthCare and Care New England Health System to move forward with their merger plans.

The organizations announced Thursday they have agreed to enter into a definitive agreement, the next step in the process for the Rhode Island health system to become part of Partners HealthCare in Massachusetts.

RELATED: Brown University throws wrench in Partners’ plans to acquire Care New England Health System

Although the two health systems announced merger plans in April 2017, there has been no news on a formal arrangement since they signed a letter of intent to move toward a more definitive deal. But the groups said Thursday that they have extended the existing letter of intent and exclusivity until they execute the definitive agreement.

The announcement comes on the heels of a recent report that Brown University was interested in acquiring Care New England if the Partners HealthCare deal fell through to ensure Rhode Island residents continued to have access to high-quality, affordable healthcare.

A definitive agreement would outline the details and plans for the actual transaction and then seek necessary state and federal regulatory approvals. The tentative plan calls for Partners to acquire Kent Hospital in Warwick; Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island in Providence; the VNA of Care New England, based in Warwick; Butler Hospital in Providence; and The Providence Center in several Rhode Island locations.

Under the proposal, the “strong educational and research relationship that CNE has fostered with Brown University will continue to play a critical role in the healthcare landscape and its future development,” the announcement said.

“We look forward to the opportunity this now affords and what it means for the delivery of high-quality healthcare for our patients, the community we serve and our vital academic partnerships. We will continue to focus our efforts on the remaining work while doing so with perseverance that reflects the needs of our patients and the ever-changing healthcare landscape” said CNE President and CEO James E. Fanale, M.D.

Brigham Health President Betsy Nabel, M.D., said that Brigham and Women’s Hospital, one of the founding members of Partners, and Care New England have had a close clinical affiliation for the past nine years in cardiology, and vascular, thoracic and colorectal surgery.

“By combining the talent, experience, and resources of our two organizations, we will achieve more integrated, coordinated care offered conveniently–in the right place at the right time–improving outcomes and reducing the rise in healthcare costs,” she said in the announcement. “Partners and Brigham Health are steadfast in our commitment to strengthen local care delivery and enhance quality for patients and communities that Care New England serves.”

But in an apparent nod to Brown University, David Torchiana, M.D., president and CEO of Partners HealthCare, said in the announcement that the organization is “aware of and deeply respectful of the other components of the Rhode Island healthcare landscape and hope to find common ground and mutually beneficial pathways to improve the academic strength of the hospital programs and maximize the benefit to the Rhode Island economy.”

In a campuswide letter earlier this month, Brown University President Christina Paxson said the merger between Partners and Care New England would be wrong for the state and the university. She expressed concern that specialty healthcare would shift to Massachusetts and would likely increase costs of care within Rhode Island. As a result, she said the university was working with Prospect Medical Holdings on an alternative plan to keep Care New England services in the state.

The university, in a statement to the Boston Globe, said it looked forward to “engaging” with both Care New England and Partners, but also urged state regulators to “analyze the impact on access to healthcare, the cost of medical care, and jobs and economic development in Rhode Island, and consider whether a local option would better serve the residents of the state.”