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By Richard Asinof
PAWTUCKET – An array of residents, doctors, nurses and hospital administrators all spoke glowingly in favor of Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island’s proposed merger to join the Care New England hospital network at a public hearing held on June 11 in the auditorium of Joseph Jenks Junior High School.
In the rapidly changing health care landscape, with independent community hospitals disappearing, the merger with Care New England as the best way to preserve Memorial Hospital, the second-largest employer in Pawtucket, “as an active community participant,” said Arthur J. DeBlois III, Memorial’s interim president and CEO.
Gilbert Slater, 88, who was born at Memorial Hospital (and joked that he was no relation to the Slaters of mill fame), praised the family care program.
Kyle Coburn, holding her baby in her arms, her fourth child, talked about the high quality of care she received at Memorial delivering her children.
Rita Brennan, a nurse who is president of United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5082, voiced her union’s support for the merger, saying: “Memorial is where the circle of life occurs.”
Dennis D. Keefe, president and CEO of Care New England also spoke, talking about how well Memorial fit in with the state’s second largest hospital system’s vision of patient-centered care.
The state regulators, who said they were there to listen, not comment, spoke about their personal knowledge of community in their introductory comments. Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin acknowledged that he had graduated ninth grade at the school where the hearing was being held. Dr. Michael Fine, director of the R.I. Department of Health, had done his training as a family physician at Memorial, recalling how as a resident he had often gone to the House of Pizza on Division Street.
A number of the board of directors of Care New England were also in attendance, including Chairman George W. Shuster and Diane Lipscombe.
In an unrelated matter, a federal agency, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, has stepped in to shore up Landmark Medical Center’s pension system, agreeing to cover Landmark’s current shortfall of about $25 million of an unfunded liability estimated to be about $35 million, according to The Woonsocket Call.
“The agency stepped in because the medical center can’t pay benefits, and the pension plan will be abandoned after Landmark sells all of its assets,” Marc Hopkins, an agency spokesman, told The Call.
According to Hopkins, Landmark’s pension system is on the verge of collapse, the hospital doesn’t have the money to pay beneficiaries, and the for-profit hospital chain that wants to buy Landmark – Prime Healthcare Services – isn’t going to take over the pension system if the sale goes through.