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More on legislation for buying RI hospitals in bulk

February 7, 2012

Since I first wrote about the topic, we’ve learned a little more about a bill in the General Assembly to let for-profit companies buy multiple local hospitals a year.

Felice Freyer has written several great articles about the proposal, and I’ve chatted with a few people connected to the legislation. I talked with Elisabeth Harrison on Morning Edition about what I’ve learned, but here are some of the details that didn’t make it on the radio.

There have been rumors for a while that Steward Health Care System, the for-profit company waiting to buy Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket, wants to buy more hospitals in the state. The folks over there won’t say much about this legislation. Christopher Murphy, Steward’s spokesman, says Steward’s “focus is on the acquisition of Landmark Medical Center.”  Then again,

“If a community hospital approached us and wanted to join Steward and we thought it was a good fit, obviously, it would be something we’d discuss with them.”

But Steward has some serious money invested in getting something done on Smith Hill.  Steward is paying $2,500 dollars a month to a lobbying firm led by former Warwick Mayor Joseph Walsh. It also has a ten thousand dollar retainer for former Senate Minority leader Robert Goldberg. Here’s the data from the Secretary of State’s website (Click for a better view)-

When I asked Christopher Murphy from Steward what those lobbyists were doing at the General Assembly, he said he didn’t have any information about that.  Senator Roger Picard, one of the co-sponsors of the legislation, says Steward didn’t necessarily ask him to introduce the bill, it just encouraged him.

This was an idea that was tossed around a couple of years ago, and then some people from Steward said, Roger, if you do that we would support that position because we’re kind of looking. So, the direct answer is no, they didn’t ask me to put it in but did they come and ask me if I was putting it in, they would be supportive of it. I know it’s kind of a fine distinction…

This afternoon, the House Corporations Committee will go over the legislation.  Here’s how the press release for the meeting describes Steward’s involvement-

The bill was filed at the request of Steward Health Care System, the company that has applied to purchase Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket, although Steward, which owns 10 Massachusetts hospitals, has not announced any efforts involving other Rhode Island facilities at this time.

How likely is it that this legislation will pass? One of the co-sponsors of the Senate version of the bill is Senate majority leader Dominick Ruggerio. It’s always a good sign when you have support from leadership in the General Assembly.

Also, some groups that would have opposed the legislation in the past- for instance the United Nurses and Allied Professionals union (UNAP)– might be more conflicted this time around. Members might not like the idea of for-profits coming into the state, but they also want to keep their jobs at these struggling community hospitals.

In any case, this bill is definitely getting some attention. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee will review the Senate version of the bill on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. in the Senate Lounge.

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