UNAP lawsuit seeks to halt Memorial closure, appoint special master

UNITED NURSES AND ALLIED PROFESSIONALS Local 5082 has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court seeking a delay of the Memorial Hospital closure process pending a review of the filing of the reverse certificate of need as required by the Hospital Conversions Act. / COURTESY CARE NEW ENGLAND
UNITED NURSES AND ALLIED PROFESSIONALS Local 5082 has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court seeking a delay of the Memorial Hospital closure process pending a review of the filing of the reverse certificate of need as required by the Hospital Conversions Act. / COURTESY CARE NEW ENGLAND

PROVIDENCE – United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5082 filed a lawsuit in Superior Court Dec. 7 seeking a special master to oversee Care New England’s closure of Memorial Hospital, and a delay of the process pending a review of the filing of the reverse certificate of need as required by the Hospital Conversions Act.

In a statement announcing the lawsuit last week, the union contends critical provisions in the Hospital Conversions Act have been ignored by Care New England in the process, with the consent of the R.I. Department of Health.

“The Department of Health has allowed Care New England to circumvent the Hospital Conversions Act and now we are asking the court to restore integrity to the regulatory process,” said Chris Callaci, UNAP general counsel.

Care New England disagrees.

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“While Care New England continues to await a final ruling on its Memorial Hospital closure application, it is important to once again reiterate that we have undertaken these steps in a manner strictly following the guidelines set forth by a clearly defined, state regulatory process. We believe yesterday’s court filing on behalf of the union is without merit and Care New England intends to file an answer disputing these claims early next week,” said Jim Beardsworth, CNE spokesman.

One complaint Callaci lists is Care New England’s intent to transfer some Memorial services to Kent Hospital. In November, CNE announced it intends to transfer medical residencies, affiliated with the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, to Kent Hospital.

According to the HCA, section 17.14-5, conversions require the approval of the state attorney general and department of health. But a separate section of the law, 23-17.14-18, covering the closing of hospitals, only requires approval of the health department director when a hospital is shut down.

Callaci said the transfer of the residencies triggers a review by the Rhode Island attorney general’s office as a conversion, noting the HCA’s definition of conversion as the transfer of 20 percent or more of the assets of a hospital from one entity to another.

The lawsuit also contends that Care New England worked outside the Hospital Conversions Act by effectively closing the hospital’s emergency department before properly filing the reverse certificate of need with the R.I. Department of Health. To remedy this, the lawsuit asks the court to suspend the closure of Memorial Hospital and reset the process after the certificate of need is refiled.

The Department of Health website has posted the reverse certificate of need for the hospital’s emergency room filed by CNE dated Nov. 2, 10 days before notifying Memorial staff of its intent to close the intensive care unit.

The Department of Health says the process is moving forward according to the law.

“The Department of Health is continuing to review the pending requests made by Care New England in accordance with the laws and regulations governing these kinds of applications,” said DOH spokesman Joseph Wendelken.

Amy Kempe, public information officer at R.I. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office, said the hospital shutdown is currently governed solely by the reverse certificate of need filed earlier this fall. Kempe said she could not comment on UNAP’s assertion in the lawsuit, saying the suit is under review.

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com.