CharterCARE offers to invest $10M in Memorial, plans revival starting with ER, CNE downplays plan

CharterCARE Health Partners will offer Care New England $10 million for the Memorial Hospital building, where it intends to restore services, starting with the emergency room. / COURTESY CARE NEW ENGLAND
CharterCARE Health Partners will offer Care New England $10 million for the Memorial Hospital building, where it intends to restore services, starting with the emergency room. / COURTESY CARE NEW ENGLAND

PAWTUCKET — CharterCare Health Partners CEO John J. Holiver and Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien announced Thursday that the hospital system plans to buy the Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island building and has committed $10 million for capital improvements, returning medical services there in stages, starting with emergency care.

A spokesman for CharterCare said the company’s total offer to Care New England, which shut down Memorial Nov. 11, has not been sent to CNE yet.

Holiver said the $10 million would cover both outfitting the emergency center as well as the anticipated medical staff, employing about 100 people. He said he couldn’t estimate the company’s possible offer on the entire former Memorial Hospital campus.

“It’s too early to tell,” Holiver said.

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Holiver said the full proposal, including their $10 million commitment to restore the ER and an offer on the building itself, will be made to Care New England in a matter of days.

The proposal will be contingent on negotiating better reimbursement rates for CharterCare’s Rhode Island hospitals with the Office of Health Insurance Commissioner, Holiver said. Holiver said negotiation is their preferred strategy, but if that doesn’t work out, he said the company will pursue legislation to mandate reimbursement rates comparable to rates paid to other Rhode Island hospitals.

Eventually, CharterCare plans to restore all medical services at the building. Efforts to draft the plan to restore services at the Memorial Hospital building began at the request of Grebien.

CharterCare jointly owns Roger Williams Medical Center, Fatima Hospital, St. Joseph Health Center and Elmhurst Extended Care with Prospect Medical Holdings Inc. of California through a joint venture, Prospect CharterCARE LLC.

In January, Prospect and Brown University announced their competing bid to purchase Care New England as an alternative to the absorption of the health care system by Boston-based Partners HealthCare of Massachusetts. CNE and Partners have a standing exclusive agreement to pursue a merger, but the deal hinges on state approval.

Thursday morning, Holiver said their plan for Memorial Hospital is a separate issue from the Brown University-Prospect proposal.

Originally CNE planned to sell off Memorial to Prime Healthcare as part of the Partners deal, but continuing losses at the Pawtucket institution led the local hospital system to close it. The closure affected approximately 700 employees, limited access to hospital care in the Blackstone Valley and caused an emergency room crisis when other local hospital emergency rooms were inundated with an overflow of patients during the winter flu season, one that was described by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “intense.”

FROM LEFT, Lt. Gov. Daniel J. McKee, CharterCARE Health Partners Chairman of the Board Edward Santos and CharterCARE CEO John J. Holliver confer following the press conference announcing the company's plans to purchase Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island from Care New England. / PBN PHOTO/ROB BORKOWSKI
FROM LEFT, Lt. Gov. Daniel J. McKee, CharterCARE Health Partners Chairman of the Board Edward Santos and CharterCARE CEO John J. Holliver confer at the press conference in Pawtucket City Hall announcing the company’s plans to purchase Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island from Care New England. / PBN PHOTO/ROB BORKOWSKI

Care New England had a quick reaction to the news. Jim Beardsworth, spokesman for the health care system said in a statement: “We made the difficult decision more than six months ago to close Memorial Hospital and begin transitioning the facility into an outpatient center. In the process, we preserved 200 local jobs and positioned community-based health care for a solid future. Today’s announcement by Prospect Health/CharterCare certainly comes as a surprise, as there has been no previous discussion or formal proposal submitted to Care New England.

“Any plan to reopen the closed facility, as suggested today, is simply unfeasible, especially since we previously had conversations with CharterCare about buying Memorial and those proved fruitless. Today’s announcement represents nothing more than an opportunity to muddy the health care landscape with an ill-conceived plan with no true thought for serving the community need.”

United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP) General Counsel Chris Callaci said the proposal is unlikely to bear fruit without the RI Department of Health’s cooperation to undo the decision to shutter the facility.

“Prospect CharterCare executives are trying to extort higher reimbursement rates from Governor Gina Raimondo and the General Assembly by irresponsibly and irreverently promising that Memorial will be a community hospital again, when they know it will not. This is a slap in the face to every nurse, bedside caregiver and support personnel to ever work at Memorial Hospital and we hope the governor, Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio will recognize it as such,” Callaci said.

When the R.I. Department of Health approved Care New England’s reverse certificate of need application to close Memorial Hospital’s emergency department in December 2017, it set a number of conditions related to the loss of emergency room services:

  • CNE will provide $300,000 to Pawtucket and $200,000 to Central Falls each year for two years to offset emergency medical services costs associated with transporting patients to other hospitals
  • CNE will establish a transportation plan for patients and patients’ families so that individuals with nonemergency chronic conditions won’t have to incur additional costs associated with traveling to receive services that are only offered at another hospital
  • CNE must maintain Memorial Hospital’s Family Care and Internal Medicine Centers in Pawtucket at their current hours and staffing levels
  • CNE will invest $100,000 annually in the Pawtucket and Central Falls Health Equity Zones. Rhode Island’s HEZs are nine distinct areas throughout the state where organizations are coming together to put health programs and policies in place to prevent chronic diseases, improve birth outcomes, and improve the socioeconomic and environmental conditions of their neighborhoods.

Joseph Wendelken, spokesman for the RIDOH, said the department has not received an application from CharterCare to do anything at the site of Memorial Hospital.

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer.