LIFE CHANGES: One controversial change under the merged entity is that Westerly Hospital will no longer maintain its maternity services, a result of declining births at the hospital as well as financial difficulties.
COURTESY WESTERLY HOSPITAL
By Richard Asinof
If all goes as expected, Westerly Hospital’s sale for $69 million to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital of New London, Conn., will be approved by Rhode Island state regulators this month, W. Mark Russo, the court-appointed special master, told Providence Business News.
“I hope to have regulatory approvals by the middle of April,” said Russo, speaking after a brief public hearing March 27 at the Westerly Middle School during which only two people testified. “I would suspect that we would close within 30 days after that. … I don’t see any last-minute snags on the horizon.”
The public hearing, one of two back-to-back sessions held that day, sought public comment from Westerly residents about the pending sale. The hearings were conducted the R.I. Department of Health and the attorney general’s office, the two state agencies charged with overseeing the sale of hospitals under the state’s Hospital Conversions Act.
Jodi Bourque, Rhode Island assistant attorney general, opened the hearing by saying to a mostly empty auditorium: “We’re here to listen.” After brief statements from Russo, R.I. Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin and Dr. Michael Fine, director of the R.I. Department of Health, only two residents stepped forward to offer comments.
In contrast, similar public hearings held in April 2012 at Woonsocket City Hall on the proposed sale of Landmark Medical Center to Steward Health Care drew an overflow crowd of several hundred Woonsocket residents. However, after receiving approval by state regulators, Steward backed out of the deal in September 2012. A new suitor, Prime Healthcare Services of Ontario, Calif., is now pursuing the purchase of Landmark.
The first Westerly resident to speak, Steven Hartford, Westerly’s town manager, put a positive spin on the low turnout. Hartford said the low attendance at the hearing was a sign that most people were “comfortable” with the sale, even if they were “frustrated by the reality” that their acute-care community hospital could no longer financially sustain its operations by itself.