Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee shared his views about the challenges facing Rhode Island’s health care system in a recent one-on-one interview at the Statehouse with the Providence Business News. In the interview, often speaking in a rambling, elliptical fashion, Chafee repeatedly praised the model of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a $10 billion health integrated enterprise, with 54,000 employees and 20 hospitals, as a good example of what he believes Rhode Island needs to emulate.
PBN: What are the lessons learned from the nearly five-year saga of the Landmark Medical Center attempts to sell the hospital and emerge from receivership?
CHAFEE: The biggest lesson we have learned is the recognition that we have a balkanized health care system in a small state. We have Lifespan, Care New England, CharterCare, and we have independents, including Landmark. [We need to focus on] how we provide health care, and keep a good, vibrant health car system in our state, before we get out-of-staters poaching into our territory. Particularly on the more lucrative aspects of providing health care, that’s been a concern.
We’ve had a long saga with Landmark, but also a quicker resolution to Westerly Hospital, but it’s still not a good [outcome] when a hospital goes into receivership.
I learned a lot from our trip to Pittsburgh, when I visited the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which is really providing health care for a broad expanse of population, comparing that to our small state, which has multiple entities competing and trying to ward off the competition, not only from out-of staters but from the for-profits.
PBN: What do you see as the priority to promote a statewide health care delivery system plan in Rhode Island?
CHAFEE: I am working with health care leaders to do more of what I saw in Pittsburgh. Care New England is looking at Memorial [Hospital] right now as an acquisition. [We need to look at] how we can continue to do more of that. Instead of competing in our small state, [we need to] join forces, providing high quality health care and also attracting research dollars.
In Pittsburgh, we saw how one cardiac center was attracting tremendous research dollars because they are doing such a good job, instead of three of them competing.
PBN: What kinds of future investments in Providence’s Knowledge District would you like to see in the health care and life sciences sectors?
CHAFEE: We are very fortunate in Rhode Island to have, what I like to say, is one of only seven Ivy League medical schools in the world. We have one. There are other medical schools that are good, but they not in the Ivy League. That’s a tremendous asset; there are only seven, and we have one. And, it’s moved into a sparkling, newly renovated building that just exudes opportunities for the future.
Right in the same area, we have Rhode Island Hospital, Women & Infants Hospital, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Brown Medical School, and Johnson & Wales, with the announcement of its new physician’s assistant program. It’s the “meds and eds” that I’ve talked about so frequently. It’s an economic sector that’s got natural growth, in these very, very difficult times, that is growing. Looking ahad, that’s what we are seeing in meds and eds.
PBN: What kinds of investments, rather than budget cuts, would you recommend to improve health care service delivery outcomes?
CHAFEE: I’ve been an advocate, in many meetings with CEOs, about learning from Pittsburgh and its medical center.
Pittsburgh was an old industrial blue-collar city. [The city’s] economy was fueled by its steel mills. The steel mills disappeared, the steel industry moved, and they made the transition to health care. The city’s unemployment rate is something to be marveled at, and the opportunities for growth are limitless in these areas as they attract research dollars
In Rhode Island, I’ve been saying, we can’t have all these hospital entities competing with each other, in a small state. We’re not going to copy everything that UPMC is doing, but learn from that experience.
Here in Rhode Island, we have the Hospital Conversions Act. Care New England and Lifespan went down that path several years ago, not successfully. Naturally, and understandably, [there may be a reluctance] to embark on that expensive, litigious path.
And, we’re saying, the director of health and the attorney general, both of which played a key role in the Hospital Conversions Act, were to tell you, there are less speed bumps along the way, fewer regulatory obstacles to overcome under this administration. The attorney general can speak for himself, he’s not in my administration, but I believe he agrees with me.
Instead of making it more difficult under the Hospital Conversions Act, we want to make it easier, to do our jobs to encourage consolidation instead of competition in this small state.
PBN: What role can the business community play in helping to build the health industry sector?
CHAFEE: I’d like to see them – and they came on the trip to Pittsburgh, business and labor leaders and hospital and health care leaders – to really renew our energies to protect health care delivery in northern Rhode Island, that’s Landmark.
Make sure that – Westerly looks like it’s going to be resolved, with [the sale to] to New London hospital – make sure that South County, Newport, CharterCare, that we can reall make some good decisions in this state.
I welcome the business community’s involvement. They were on the trip [to Pittsburgh], so they saw first hand, it seems as though issues have overwhelmed us here. In Pittsburgh, the steel mills are gone, and a new industry has taken its place, it’s a juggernaut.