Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1998-1999 index

Distributed November 23, 1998
Contact: Scott Turner

Hospital Mergers and the Community

Free forum asks if hospital mergers are good for the public health

For-profit, not-for-profit, merger - what do the terms mean for health care in your community? The public is invited to attend a free program on hospital consolidations titled "Hospital Mergers: Are They Good For The Public Health?" The program will take place Friday, Dec.4, 1998, from 4 to 6 p.m., in room 101 of the Salomon Center for Teaching, on The College Green at Brown University.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The proposed merger of Lifespan and Care New England will change health care delivery in Rhode Island. To learn more about how mergers affect hospitals and their communities, the public may attend a free forum Friday, Dec. 4, 1998, titled "Hospital Mergers: Are They Good For The Public Health?" The program will take place from 4 to 6 p.m., in room 101 of the Salomon Center for Teaching, on The College Green at Brown University. It will feature presentations by health-care heavyweights on different sides of the merger debate, as well as opportunities for the audience to speak out on the subject.

Rhode Island regulates hospital sales. In September the attorney general's office cut off the proposed merger of the three-hospital-system Care New England with the major network CareGroup, based in Boston. In October, Lifespan and Care New England agreed to merge. This would create an eight-hospital, $1.4-billion health care delivery system and would give Lifespan more than 63 percent of the state's hospital market.

Both Lifespan and Care New England say their actions are meant to strengthen patient care missions and to provide financial security. Indeed, merger proponents say that non-profit facilities need to combine to remain competitive in the current environment of cost reductions.

However, patient advocates worry that the new forms of corporate medicine created by mergers will loosen the hospitals' connection to the community and their charitable mission. The proposed Lifespan and Care New England merger would create a health-care utility in Rhode Island, something opponents say is too big, too risky and too threatening to hospitals left out of the consolidation.

The Brown forum is a chance for members of the public to learn more about how hospital mergers may affect public health and to air their own views.

The event will feature a presentation by Dr. Mitchell Rabkin, former CEO of CareGroup, the Boston-based New England health-care delivery system formed through major mergers. CareGroup's flagship institution is Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

A different viewpoint will be presented by Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates a single-payer system of national health insurance. Such a system would eliminate the need for hospital mergers, say merger opponents. Woolhandler practices primary care internal medicine at Cambridge City Hospital and is an associate professor in the Harvard Medical School.

Following the speakers, Peter Phipps, a columnist with the Providence Journal-Bulletin, will lead a question and answer period for the audience. Phipps has written widely about the business of health care. He is particularly interested in the role of government regulation.

"The basis for having not-for-profit hospitals is that they serve the poor, those who come in on a first-come, first-served basis, and the local community," said Vincent Mor, forum organizer and director of Brown's Public Health Program. "The more these hospitals consolidate, the greater the risk they may become less connected to their communities.

"Will this happen in Rhode Island?" Mor asked. "That is the type of question we hope is raised December 4th. This is an opportunity for a discussion, not necessarily about the Rhode Island situation, but about all the ramifications of these cases. In Rhode Island, a yes or a no decision to the proposed merger could have major implications for public health. Not-for-profit community hospitals and the health of the public are tied together. We want to know where the community is in all of this."

The forum is sponsored by the Brown University School of Medicine's Public Health Program and by the Rhode Island Public Health Association. For more information, call (401) 863-9333.