PROVIDENCE – Several union representatives came forward in support of the proposed merger between Lifespan Corp. and Care New England Health System at a public comment meeting on Thursday evening, though other speakers said such a combined system would monopolize the state’s health care system.
Representatives from the United Nurses & Allied Professionals, Teamsters Local 251 and SEIU 1199 New England advocated for the merger, citing an agreement with Lifespan and Care New England officials that they said would ensure protections and power for unions and their members in the merged entity.
Union representatives also expressed concerns that if the merger is not approved, an out-of-state, for-profit entity will absorb Care New England, which has experienced significant financial losses in recent years.
“Care New England simply cannot stand alone,” said Chris Callaci, general counsel for UNAP, and “will become part of some bottom-feeding, private-equity entity” if the merger with Lifespan does not succeed.
“We don’t need for-profits or private equity in Rhode Island,” he added.
Meanwhile, UNAP, which represents around 2,500 employees at Lifespan and 1,500 at Care New England, has reached an agreement with Lifespan and Care New England executives that will provide meaningful job security protections, advancement opportunities and union representation in decision-making, Callaci said. The merged entity would also include about 10,000 unionized employees.
Rhode Island’s “very rigorous regulatory framework” would hold the merged health system accountable on worker protections, quality of care and cost control, Callaci said.
The proposed merger between Lifespan and Care New England, which is now on its fourth proposal since 1998, would bring the two entities into an integrated academic health system with Brown University.
In addition to UNAP, representatives from Teamsters Local 251 and SEIU District 1199 New England spoke in favor of the merger, also citing a strong union presence and protections and workers under the new agreement.
Teamsters Local 251 represents over 6,300 workers throughout several industries in Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts, including some Lifespan employees, and SEIU 1199 NE represents 2,300 Care New England employees.
But going against this new wave of support, other speakers said that the merger would create a monopoly on the state’s health care system, with Lifespan and Care New England accounting for around 80% of the state’s hospital infrastructure.
Dana Ciolfi, a medical technologist and microbiologist at Women and Infants Hospital, said that after her workplace, once a standalone, joined Care New England in the 1990s, workers and finances suffered.
“I don’t believe we need to be part of a monopoly in order to provide excellent health care to the state,” Ciolfi said.
Roberta Feather, a professor emeritus at the University of Rhode Island and a private practitioner, said that she shares people’s concerns about an out-of-state, for-profit hospital gaining power in Rhode Island, but said that the Lifespan-Care New England merger is still not the answer.
“The reality is, we’re looking at two sinking ships that are attempting to merge,” Feather said, and suggested looking into other methods, such as joint ventures.
James Bailey, an economics professor at Providence College, also voiced concerns with the merger, adding that these systems “typically increase prices … without affecting quality in a measurable way.”
The virtual meeting, the final of three public comment sessions, attracted 119 attendees. The list of speakers concluded at around 7:30 p.m., though the meeting remained in session until its scheduled end at 8 p.m.
Members of the public can submit written comment through Feb. 11.
The proposed merger would need approval from the R.I. Department of Health, the R.I. Office of the Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission to move forward.